Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life…SHS-Style

Students were asked to create an ‘Encyclopedia’ of their lives drawing inspiration from their heart maps, memoir-worthy lists, and brainstormed writing territories.  The process of creating this personal ‘Encyclopedia’ was inspired by educator Kelly Gallagher and based on the book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life written by Amy Rosenthal.
I couldn’t resist sharing some of the creativity of my students, adding my commentary and observations in italics below each entry.  Enjoy….



I have Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Whatever that means. It’s a mouth full.  It can be very painful at times and I give myself injections every week for at least a year to help cure it. It often is a bother to have in my right hand because it prevents me from doing stuff like writing or throwing balls for sports.

Each and every day I am impressed with the many layers to the lives of my students.  Often, I am consumed by helping my students become better readers, writers, and speakers.  I have a burning desire for my students to love reading and possess the ability to write effectively for their future success.  In the midst of discussing figurative language or root words or epic poetry, or assessing writing or presentations or whatever, I can forget or  completely fail to recognize each student has responsibilities and challenges outside of English Language Arts.  High school students are amazing!!

Baby, Drop Kicked

I almost killed my dog, Baby. I know, silly name, blame my mom. Anyways, we were playing hide-and-seek and she started chasing me so I turned to the stairs and I picked up my foot. When I picked up my foot, though, her head was in the way and I might have kicked her head into a wall… and knocked her unconscious. My bad.

Lots to think about here…the title of this entry – at first I thought a human baby was drop-kicked, blaming mom for a silly pet name, playing hide-and-seek with a dog?, playing hide-and-seek with a silly mom?, pet homicide…I suppose many of us have been in situations where our pets got in the way and the sudden screeching sounds of our little fury friends makes the hair on our necks stand straight up…that is, if we have hair on our necks with legs to stand.  I suppose, too, many of us have endured stupid, unthinkable names given the wild animals living in our homes by our younger brother or parent or grandma Ruthi.  At the end of the day, aren’t we all just thankful for pets who love us unconditionally?  


The smell of bacon gives me a sudden sense of joy. Doesn’t matter what kind or flavor or cut. I find it all delicious. It reminds me of no-school days, saturdays, and the I-can`t-find-anything-for-dinner-and-ooh-here’s-bacon days. Bacon can be a lifesaver as well when it comes to making some things taste better. It can add crunch to a limp salad, give more effort into a plain burger and even make eggs an actual meal. Bacon is the refrigerated superhero.

The third sentence in this entry sums up that intoxicating aroma of bacon and the emotions and feelings it conjures up for me.  Not so sure about the ‘refrigerated superhero’ part, but nothing beats a bacon sandwich…two slices of toast, butter, and bacon washed down with an ice-cold Pepsi.


Roasting hot dogs over the flame, imagining them coming alive and screaming in pain when they fall into the flames. The others are watching, waiting, praying that they’re not next to fall. It’s all fun and games ‘til someone loses a wiener.

Not sure why, but reading this entry is a bit painful.

Doorway Awkwardness

It’s happened to everyone, unless you are a liar. Maybe me more than others, because that’s just how I am. The bell has just rung, and there’s a huge pileup at the door. We all didn’t get here at the same time, how can we all expect to leave at the same time? It doesn’t work, which is partly why this situation happens. You and another kid exchange a glance. He’s waiting for you, you’re waiting for him. Who goes first? You could say “Go ahead.”, but that would just draw attention to the awkwardness. So you go, hoping he doesn’t go at the same time. If he does, and you have a head on collision, you might as well just go home. You will go through at least 15 minutes of embarrassment afterwards.

How can we all expect to leave at the same time? That is a great question. This entry reminds me of elevator awkwardness. Why is it everyone stares up at the floor numbers above the door while riding a crowded elevator. Rarely do people talk. I imagine myself sometime standing with my back to the doors of an elevator staring right into the face of the others ascending to their destination, forcing them to look at me rather than the numbers. THAT would be awkward…yes or yes?


Though it bugs me when people eavesdrop on my conversations, I am a horrid eavesdropper because I always am jumping into other peoples’ conversations. It’s so rude of me and I feel awkward and bad after.

The word ‘awkward’ again…must be an easily recognizable and applicable word for teenagers.  Works for me too, I guess.  I am annoyed by people who do this.  If I am talking with someone and an ‘outside party’ joins the conversation without an invitation, it IS rude and obnoxious.  Really, if I wanted the other person to provide some insight I would have asked.  I’m not being judgmental, but…wait, maybe that is judgmental.  In any case, I guess the good news about these situations is our conversation must be interesting enough for people to want to listen.

Fingers, Cheeto

I absolutely hate cheeto fingers. I love cheetos and their crunch crunch noise they make when you eat, especially cheeto puffs. But I could go without getting cheese on my fingers.


Follower, Don’t Be A


Never be a follower. Be a leader whenever possible. Don’t be one of those people that does what everybody else does because that might be what’s ‘cool’ at the moment. Especially if you’re getting in trouble. Don’t be the kid who’s easily talked into things. What you’re doing may be cool at the moment, but a few hours later when you’re sitting without a response for anything, like the guys on Cops, it’s not going to be as awesome as it once was being with all those “cool kids.” Do what YOU want to do, or you’ll end up regretting it.

Wise advice from a freshmen in high school.  Being a leader isn’t easy and doing the right thing is harder yet, but it is the healthiest way to become the best version of yourself .

Gluttony, First Stages Of

I love food. I love eating food. And I eat food frequently. I sound like the perfect candidate to be gluttonous. Though this needs to change because it is one of the 7 deadly sins. SO in the end if I continue down this road, I might be full in my stomach but in God’s eyes I would be empty.

I love the paradox at the end of this entry…full in my stomach, but empty in God’s eyes.  I find it important to have some discipline in my life.  I love food too, but I can LOOK at a piece of cake and gain five pounds.  Being disciplined, I suppose, helps fend off gluttony, however I am too weak, too human, to avoid gluttony entirely.  It’s a daily challenge.


I love laying on my back looking up at the sky, drifting in and out of sleep, finding pictures in the clouds, smelling the fresh, soft breeze, while the sun is tickling your cheeks, nose, and eyelids with its warm fingers.

I want it to be July. Hot. Sun. Green leaves flittering in the breeze. Mosquitos. Yellow-Jackets. Sun burn on my bald head. Uncomfortable, sweaty sleep…I digress. 

Hit, S


…enough said


Why do so many people believe that immortality is so great? I don’t really think that it is all so great. If a person were to never die, then life wouldn’t mean squat to them, and they could become a raging psychopath. Or if you live forever with the one you love, there is a good chance you’ll get sick of each other eventually. So I guess my point is that so many books are about immortals and yada, yada, yada. Really, though, they are getting tiring, especially after the Twilight movies.

Okay, I have never seen the Twilight movies and yada, yada, yada I don’t think my life will go unfulfilled.  I live my life in fear of psychopaths…not really, but I do like watching Criminal Minds.  However, I do live my life knowing I have a limited amount of time which helps me to stay focused on important things like my faith and my family.



I’m sorry, but that would be the WORST job on the planet.  Being a janitor would be like screwing caps on water bottles all day or counting spoons or something.

I’m not sure if being a janitor – or shall I say custodian – is the worst job on the planet.  However, I DO think screwing caps on water bottles should be the WORST job on the planet.


Justin Bieber, I Hate

If there’s one person in the whole world I’d become a psychopathic killer for, it’s Justin Bieber. Some think he’s cute, to me, he’s mostly just nauseating. When he wrote a country song, I almost died, I have to say.

I just hope, by the end of your freshmen year, I don’t make ‘The One Person in The Whole World I’d Become a Psychopathic Killer For’ list.  Maybe I SHOULD fear psychopaths….



Something the I am not very fond of. Kids are sticky and messy and gross. They always have obs and globs of gooey stuff on them.

I have four of these sticky, messy creatures who have obs and globs of gooey stuff, leaking liquids everywhere (stole ‘leaking liquids everywhere from the book Make Lemonade) living in MY house…I LOVE every minute of it 🙂 



In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “Do not pity the dead Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, pity those who live without love.” Love is kind of like water; it’s needed to sustain life.

Love is the key to world peace. Yes or yes?  I pity the fool who chooses not to love or not to be loved.



I wish my life was like a movie. Preferably a romantic comedy one. There is always a good happy ending in  movies like that and the characters have an interesting life. Movies express themselves in a way words  could watch them all day everyday.

Sappy…but that’s okay.  

I’m a guy and I have learned that I have to suffer (don’t tell me wife, Desiree)  through movies like this – chic flicks, right? – to watch football on Sundays and Criminal Minds on Wednesdays and baseball all summer and basketball during the week all winter-long….wait, almost forgot, football on Saturdays, Mondays, and Thursdays too.  Gosh, I need to be a little more considerate to the others living in my house, sharing our television.  

Okay…movie night, that’s Saturday night.  I can do that.  We’ll start with The Avengers, then Star Wars, then ….


New Moon

The bright light of the moon, the eery sound when a sudden wolf howl breaks silence, the dry air you breath as you look up and realize it’s a new moon, the taste in your mouth as it goes dry from fear, the feeling of your hands and they clamp together, frightened. As a kid, I swore that’s what I would feel like when there was new moons. I thought werewolves came out and you would see them in shadow form over the new moon. I feel dumber than a box of rocks when I look back and realize I thought that.

Love how all five senses are addressed in this entry: sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel.


Old, I Can’t Wait to Retire When I’m

It’s not necessarily that I can’t wait for the wrinkly skin and millions of diseases and pills and aches and sores and things I can’t do anymore along with all the other hindrances that accompany old age. I don’t want to “wish my life away”, but it’s pretty hard to say the idea of not having to work or go to school every day, or any real schedule for that matter isn’t appealing for anyone.

No work.  No school.  Playing my guitar. Fishing.  Sounds pretty good.  I pray, God willing, I am healthy and happy when it comes time for me to retire.


The mystery of my life is probably why are oranges called oranges? There aren’t any other foods named after a color. It confuses me beyond belief. “ Saying I’m eating an orange.” is just weird., no matter how many times skittles say “Taste the rainbow” You just can’t taste colors.

The point is, if you were to taste a rainbow, it would taste like skittles, right?  I learned at a young age, you can’t eat things like skittles, M&Ms, or chips one at a time.  The more  you have in your mouth, the better they taste.  I suppose a little leprechaun once explained to some food technologist what a rainbow actually tasted like and, voila, skittles were created.  I imagine a rainbow tasting like a misty, moist, stale – neither sweet nor sour – flaky shortbread.  I would like to meet a leprechaun and get a guided trip to the end of the rainbow.

Kiddie Pool, the Shameful

Everyone has that pathetic eyesore in their backyard. That cheap, plastic kiddie pool with those faded, smiling fish printed on it’s bottom. Everyone has swum in one and has also had one  at one time or another. Sure they can be useful, I’ve seen them filled with either ice and beer cans or cold salad and ice at some parties. As for the rest of the year, however, those tiny pools are filled with scummy water, old, long forgotten toys and mosquitoes. They are shields against time, though. If your parents bought you one, you will still have it to give to your kids. They are part of many families that are embarrassed by them and yet, not enough to get rid of them.

This reminds me of Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian.  He used to have a bit where he would say ‘You’re a redneck if…”  Well, I suppose you’re a redneck if you have a kiddie pool filled with ice, potato salad, and beer…I am kidding of course, please no offense meant or given.  I really don’t even understand the term redneck.  I use phrases too often I don’t completely understand, like ‘you guys are the cream of the crop’.  I know what these phrases imply, but not sure where they came from or how they apply.  Keeping things cold at a party, that’s a perfectly good use of a kiddy pool that has done its time.  Nothing to be shameful for.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter and I have a very special relationship. We meet every morning for breakfast and I rely on it to fill me up. And just like the true friend it is, it never lets me down. Sure, sometimes we get bored with each other and decide to take a break. But then I realize how good I had it with peanut butter and we happily get back together. We invite our mutual friend banana over sometimes. Those are always good times. But absolutely no one can compare to peanut butter.

I love peanut butter, but I don’t, and won’t, carry on a relationship with peanut butter.  I just read this entry again, and my conclusion is some people need to get out and meet more friends 🙂

Quit, Don’t

I hate when people quit or give up because of stupid reasons like “I don’t like the coach” or “This is just boring.” You shouldn’t quit something because you don’t like somebody or they put a bad influence on you. Using something like this as an excuse makes you look like you’re very vulnerable. Don’t let somebody else ruin or influence your dreams in a negative way. Don’t quit.

Unless, of course, it’s smoking or drinking or procrastinating.  Seriously, though, this is wise advice from a freshmen in high school.  I hope all heed the advice given in this entry.  No Excuses!


When somebody wants to emphasize something they put the word ‘really’ in front of it. Really can get really overused really fast.


Steltz, John

The name of the person who is going to give me an A on this project.  He is just a lovely loving bald fellow who really likes to give A’s to people who put his name in an encyclopedia.

How could I not include this entry?  I mean, my name was the title of the entry!  How cool is that!  Sucking up doesn’t change how I feel about you though.


Crunch, crunch, tacos are my favorite food. Tacos taste totally terrific on Tuesdays.


Monday Macaroni. Wednesday White Fish.  Thirsty Thursday Thumb Licking Chicken.  Fish Fry Friday.  Saturday Scalloped Spuds.  Sunday Steak and Sauce with Steamed Seeds.


Unibrows are just cool looking. I would probably never want one because people get laughed at for having them. My one cousin Josh looks like he’s starting one though, and I always tease him about it.


When I was younger, I used to have one.  I looked like Bert or Ernie (I can’t remember which one) from Sesame Street.  Then I discovered plucking.  I decided that wasn’t for me though, a little too painful…I am wimpy when it comes to pulling hair out of my skin.


Unique, Everyone Should Be

I don’t like the way words can cut people down. Terrible, hurtful words are like society today. They try to mold every human being into their precious, perfect person. You are who you are and if someone doesn’t like you for you, there will always be someone out there who does. Be as unique as fingerprints. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, because everyone else is already taken. Be unusually unique. Everyone should be as different as night and day.


Wide Open Spaces

I love wide open spaces, like our family farm. Having 200 some acres of field. Being able to snowmobile, run, bike, and play as a child with so much room was amazing. Plus, I’m a little claustrophobic and I would die if I had to live in the city, even if it was in town in Seymour, I would die.

Reminds me of a song…  I do love wide open spaces too.  Freedom.  Empowering.  Liberating.

Vacation, Brain

Sometimes I go on brain vacations, usually at random. My brain just wanders. My worst brain vacation moment was when I was swimming in a swim meet at Kiel. I started thinking about the Cristo Redentor in Brazil and how they build and what it would look like up close, things like that. Then (as I was in the mid of my 100 back) I bang my head on the wall, that jolted me back to real life where I was on my last 25 and to make up for bumping my head I just gave it all I had and end the race in second (to last) place.

Knowing the person who wrote this makes this entry hilarious.  The image this entry provides me makes me laugh out loud every time I read it.  I take brain vacations too, mostly when I am teaching Eng9 Lit&Comp…just kidding.  This usually happens to me when I am reading or writing or driving or sitting in church.  I can’t say I have ever been injured though.

X, The Letter

For some strange reason I always loved the letter X, even as a kid. But I do not like it in math, algebra cough cough. Algebra is like having a nasty cold and then having to take horrible cough medicine on top of it.

I think of how hard the math teachers work to teach students algebra at SHS, knowing full well many students despise the undefined letters of X and Y.  Ugh.  My freshmen algebra teacher was a Nun (I went to a Catholic high school).  She was 6’5 and OLD and S-C-A-R-Y (and she ain’t got no alibi).  I swear to God she hated me because I was the quarterback of the football team.  I was afraid of her.  I was nauseated every time a test was given to me.  I survived though.  I have lots of respect for math teachers.

“X” is Missing

We’ve all heard it in class “find x” or “If this is y what is x” Personally I don’t care what it is, and I’m sick of making “y” help. Sometimes I wonder why is it “x” and not “a” or “s”, who decided “x” was so great? But then I think it’s an eXample of what we don’t want to do.

Again…Nuns. Scary. Algebra. Nausea.  I think I might puke…


In 2010, my family went out west to Yellowstone. The magnificent, majestic mountains were more beautiful than I imagined. Driving through Mammoth Hot Springs you could smell the sulfur from the hot springs. I saw my first bear in the wild and I felt as if I saw an alien when I saw the bear. I thought my heart was going to leap right out of my chest it was beating so hard.

We took a family vacation this past summer to Washington D.C, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Cleveland.  This was our first major family trip.  It was awesome.  All six of us crammed into a rockin’ mini-van cruisin’ down the road.  I loved it.  It’s these moments in our lives that are the most significant.  I have never been west of Minneapolis.  I would love to take my family to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore…anything out west.


Sure it is not a word but it sure is used in way too many peoples vocabulary I enjoy to poke fun at it and use different meanings of “You Only Live Once” such as “You Obviously Love Oreos”, “You Only Love Oppah” and my personal favorite “You Obviously Love Onew” (Kpop reference Onew is a member of the band SHINee).

New favorite meaning of YOLO: You Obviously Lack Originality.

Did not know what YOLO meant until I read several references to it for this assignment.  I love the creativity of the creating different meanings for this acronym.  I don’t know anything about KPOP, but I do know You Obviously Lack Originality…Not (YOLON).  Hey, I just made a new acronym…cool!

Zoo, Milwaukee County

I hate animals with a passion. They are all stinky and annoying to me. But, at this zoo, I can get past the animal part. My dad and I would walk around the zoo for hours on end like we were lost explorers.  I will always cherish those day trips to the zoo with my dad.

The best gift to me has been the opportunity to be a dad.  Even more, I am fortunate to still have my dad around.  I enjoy spending time with my parents.  I cherish each and every moment I spend with my wife and children.

All students are creative, interesting, and engaging; each story is worthwhile!!


About jpsteltz

Proud husband and father of four; Literacy Specialist; Reading Teacher; Literacy Coach; HS ELA Teacher; Published Author
This entry was posted in Education, students, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life…SHS-Style

  1. Reblogged this on Annette J Dunlea Irish Author and commented:
    like this post on student writing

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the peek into their minds, and yours. Delightful! Merry Christmas!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s