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Writing with Students

The classic American author Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I relate to the sentiment in this quote and think many of my high school students can understand it, too. However, I’ve often found that they expect words to come easily to great writers. Of course, successful writers will often tell their readers that, in fact, writing is a challenging process that takes time, effort, and revision.

One way teachers can help students understand the process is to write with them and model their own writing. In his article “Becoming Your Own Expert- Teachers as Writers,” Tim Gillespie from the National Writing Project reinforces this saying, “When teachers write, we provide a positive model

for our students. Our example says we value writing and find it useful, more so than when we sit and correct papers while the students write.” No doubt, this is easier said than done. When my students are busy writing, I’m often distracted with other responsibilities.

Additionally, I feel anxious showing my writing to my students because I have my own insecurities, especially when I’m working with my Advanced Placement English Literature and 
Composition students. And as I’ve often told my students, I am more of a “rewriter” than writer, which makes timed writing especially challenging for me.  Nevertheless, I write with them and show them my writing, flaws and all. 

Here are two recent lessons where I modeled my writing:
Speed Carousel Writing
In preparation for the AP Literature Exam, I created timed carousel activities with several Q3 prompts from this College Board website. This activity was inspired by the speed dating activity described by Jori Krulder during #APLitTwitterchat.

I posted these prompts around the classroom to encourage students to get out of their seats. As they rotated around the room in six-minute timed sessions, I asked my students to plan a response for each prompt, including writing their thesis statements. In addition to exposing them to AP Literature Exam retired prompts, this exercise gave them practice with quick thinking. Furthermore, it emphasized the importance of taking several minutes to plan their ideas before plunging into their essay writing.  This was reinforced in the APLitHelp.com Reminders from AP Readers blog post.  With five prompts, this activity took just over 30 minutes. And by participating with them, I know firsthand how challenging the task was to complete.

Next, I collected the students’ papers, and because I have a small class, I copied all of our responses, including my own. The following day I handed these packets to students and we sat in a circle to give one another feedback. To keep our peer review simple and effective, I borrowed a strategy from Susan Barber that uses “one glow, grow, and question” comment for each response. I encouraged them to remark on my writing, too. Afterwards, students said this was one of the best writing lessons they had completed during the semester.

I modeled my my messy writing for the timed prompt.
Using Google Drive
For an end of the year project, my students wrote argumentative letters to advocate for accelerated English classes in our school. After having taken mainstreamed English courses for their earlier high school requirements, my AP Literature students always remark that they are surprised by the rigor and pace when they enter my class. While our teachers certainly try to meet all of our students’ needs in the heterogenous English classes, sometimes our ablest students get “left behind.” Certainly, they lack the background reading that would put them in the best position for success in AP Literature.

When I gave the letter writing assignment, I wrongly assumed that they would know how to write a business letter with the purpose of making an argument. Although we had worked intensely on literary analysis writing, they had limited experience with the different format and purpose of a letter. Consequently, I decided to model my own process as I wrote a letter to our Assistant Superintendent and posted my writing in Google Drive.

They watched me research evidence from scholarly articles, brainstorm with a bulleted list, and continually revise my writing until I had my final paragraphs. They also uploaded their letters to Google Drive and when I asked them to complete peer review with each other’s letters, I invited them to make comments on my letter.
Here is an example of our peer review process on Google Drive.
With my modeling, I saw their letter writing improve drastically. Originally, their letters made frequent generalizations and vague statements about their past experiences in English classes. As they revised and gave one another feedback, they began to develop specific anecdotes and they improve the tone and word choice in their writing. By the end of the process, we had written six polished letters that we mailed to assorted school officials.

No doubt, effective English teachers know that teaching writing is different than simply assigning writing. Modeling is important – whether it’s with our own writing, student anchor essays, or writing from professional writers. Do you model your writing in class? If so, what strategies do you use?

Please share in the comments below.

Teacher Appreciation

Teachers make indelible impressions on our lives- sometimes in ways we don’t even know. I was fortunate enough to have wonderful teachers who provided me with the skills and confidence needed for future success. Now that I’m a high school English teacher, I recognize this more than ever before. Teacher Appreciation Week is an opportunity to thank them publicly, wherever they may be. Another way I hope to pay them back is by showing my appreciation to current teachers- I'm offering a back to school icebreaker activity as a freebie for this week (check for it at the bottom of the post).

Miss Manley

I remember that I was enamored with her in second grade. My best friend had earned straight “O’s” and I wanted to do the same. She encouraged to pursue my goal and when I achieved all outstanding grades, I learned that I could be a successful student.

This is my third grade class with Mrs. Ronald.
Easy to note that this was the 70's.
Mrs. Ronald
She is the teacher who started my passion for writing. In third grade, we had to write poems about colors. Mine was silly, comparing the color gold to monkeys, but she read it aloud as an example for the class. Her praise made me feel like an outstanding writer.

Mrs. McClure

I wasn’t fond of reading until fifth grade when Mrs. McClure introduced me to the book, Taran the Wanderer, and to The Chronicles of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander. I enjoyed the first book so much that I read the entire series.

Mr. Parker

Mr. Parker was an imposing African American teacher who intimidated some students but not me. When I was only in sixth grade, he encouraged me to create a school newspaper. He also served as a role model and taught me to be an open-minded person.

Mr. Livingood

Sometimes we don't appreciate a teacher until long after we’ve left his class; this was true with Mr. Livingood. In high school English, he required me to rewrite an essay to correct run-on sentences. In my corrected essay, I made new errors, writing fragments. He asked me to fix the essay again and rewrite it a third time. Needless to say, he taught me an important lesson.

Mrs. Fellows

Our journalism advisor Mrs. Fellows encouraged me to write on the school newspaper and promoted me to the feature editor. She also chaperoned me and other students at several school newspaper conferences including one at Columbia University in New York City and The National High School Journalism Convention in Chicago. I especially appreciate the personal time she sacrificed to take us on these trips.

Mr. Stallone

He was my biology teacher but also sponsored the school ski club. Back in the eighties (I doubt that we could even have a ski club now for liability reasons), he took groups of high school students across the country to ski resorts in Colorado and Utah. Bless him! I can’t even imagine how nervous I would be to chaperone students on trips like this today. These trips were some of my favorite memories from high school.

Monsieur Rummings

He also exposed me to one of my all-time
 favorite books, Le Petit Prince.
I started studying French in middle school and Mr. Rummings taught me in high school through level six. French wasn’t the easiest subject for me, but he always encouraged and challenged me to persevere. During the summer between junior and senior years of high school, I participated in a student exchange, living in France for six weeks. Upon my return, he asked me to make a presentation to the class and admired my improved accent.

Of course, there have been other admired teachers over the years, but these are a few who I recall easily. In the future, I hope that I can be remembered as fondly by some of my students. Which teachers would you thank if you could talk with them now? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Poetry Online

Poetry- people seem to adore it or to abominate it.

Like many of my current students, I didn’t enjoy reading poetry in high school because I often didn’t understand the poems we were reading in class. But when I studied literature to become an English teacher, I was challenged to read more poetry and develop engaging poetry lessons. The more I read, the more I appreciated the poems I studied.

As a result of my own experience, I try to make poetry accessible and pleasurable for my students. With the internet, this is more possible than ever before. I find audio versions of class poems and many videos to accompany them. Here are resources and tips to make teaching poetry wonderful (and don’t forget to get my free lesson for introducing poetry at the bottom of this post)!

Hook students with these poems and talks:

Use this video from popular teen author John Green, who gives an entertaining talk about the classic poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Another way to hook students on poetry is to use humor. Here’s performer Taylor Mali’s funny and relatable poem, “On Girls Lending Pens.”

You can amaze your students with this reversible poem, “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed; it always engages them with its clever wording and format. 

And here’s an inspiring commencement poem by Harvard graduate Donovan Livingston. He encourages the audience to participate in this spoken word poem by snapping, clapping, and rejoicing. This poem also challenges its listeners to consider his compelling message about education and society.

Want a modern poem to share with your students? Juan Felipe Herrera reads his poem “You Can’t Put Muhammad Ali in a Poem” as part of Dear Poet, the Academy of American Poets' educational project for National Poetry Month 2017. In fact, you can find a playlist with numerous poets from the Dear Poet project here.

Poetry also provides an emotional outlet for students with teen angst and anxiety. Here’s a popular poem they may enjoy.

Instructional Resources for Teachers:

Poetry Out Loud, a National Recitation Contest, created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, provides $50,000 in awards and school stipends for the winders of the competition. More importantly, the Poetry Out Loud activities help students build confidence and speaking skills. At the site, you can find more information about the contest, lessons for teaching recitation, and videos of winning performances.

Go directly to the source of National Poetry Month with the Academy of American Poets. You can sign up for a free poster and find innumerable teaching resources.

Use TED Talks. There are myriad topics and speakers related to poetry including these poems about dogs  from Billy Collins, and this rationale for poetry’s importance from literary critic Stephen Burt.

I hope you find some of these links useful. You can also download my free lesson to introduce poetry
It uses inquiry to make reading poetry fun and meaningful.

You can also find poetry bell ringers, poetry paired passages, and poetry writing lessons in my TpT store.

There are just so many helpful resources online for poetry that I’m sure you have some suggestions which I haven’t included. Why don’t you share in the comments below?

Trashketball Madness

When teachers capitalize on a popular trend or activity, it makes learning energizing and fun. Although trashketball can be used all school year, the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament makes it more relevant than ever.

Several years ago, one of my students introduced me to trashketball for grammar review. Ever since, my trashketball games have evolved into a motivating learning tool. Furthermore, brain research supports the connection between movement and learning, which improves academic success.

In fact, here is feedback from a teacher who has used the games in her classroom.

Want to know how to play trashketball? Here are some tips to help you use it into your classroom also:

Before playing, I place three strips of brightly colored painter’s tape on my classroom floor at increasingly farther distances. 

The students stand behind each of these lines when it’s time for them to shoot baskets into my trash can. If students make the shot from the line closest to the trash can, they earn one point. From behind the middle line they earn three points, and from the farthest line, they earn five points.

I put my trash can in front of my cabinets so it doesn’t topple over. Trashkeball has been so popular that when I found this trashcan at Modell’s Sporting Goods for $25, I immediately purchased it.

Although trashketball is traditionally played with crumpled paper, I use these balls that I’ve acquired over the years.  

At the beginning of the game, I arrange students into groups where they are sitting in my classroom. Because I’ve already carefully arranged my seating chart to reflect student abilities and personalities, these groups are heterogeneous.

Next I project the Power Point Slides and we review the rules. These rules include requiring one student to be the captain of each team. Students also choose someone with legible handwriting to record their answers. They are instructed that the captain will bring the answers for the team to me after each round. 

Even though I know the answers, I print a copy of the answer key ahead of time to make reviewing their answers a quicker process. If their answers are incorrect, I send the captain back to the group, and the students continue to work on the problems until they are ready to try again. This process continues until I have a first, second, and third place winner for each round. Sometimes I increase individual accountability and require each student to write his own answers.

After each round, I required one of the groups to share the correct answers orally before they shoot their baskets.  Each group decides if one student will shoot the baskets or if they will take turns. I also encourage them to decide on a strategy for which lines they want to shoot from.

It’s important to note that I use trashketball to supplement my instruction. When I teach grammar, I introduce the concept in a lecture and then provide guided practice. Then my students complete independent practice. Trashketball is used as formative assessment after these activities to review for quizzes.

At times, students can get boisterous because they are so excited to play trashketball. With certain classes, it’s important for me to set some ground rules for the volume of the voices, paying attention to directions, and remaining seated until it’s time for them to shoot the baskets.  If they can’t follow the rules, they aren't allowed to play the game.

I know that teachers occasionally will want to change the questions in these games to meet their students’ abilities and needs. For that reason, teachers may edit the questions in these games.  You can find numerous games for grammar instruction, poetry terms, rhetorical appeals, and literature review in my TpT store.

Have you played trashektball in your classroom? How have you varied it? I’d love to hear about your games or see photos of your students in action. Please share in the comments below.

Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below for a chance to win my Grammar Games Trashketball  Bundle with over 25 games!

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Making Valentine's Day Meaningful for Secondary ELA

How do you make Valentine’s Day meaningful in the secondary English Language Arts classroom? Secondary students don’t usually celebrate with parties or cards, but teachers can still make it a fun day by using texts with themes about love. This also ensures that students will continue to learn important content. I have my favorite texts to read, but recently I asked other English teachers and bloggers to share their favorite poems, stories, and nonfiction texts for the holiday, too. 

Whether you have a romantic, cynical, or practical view of love, you'll find something to match your interests with their wonderful recommendations:

The Chaser by John CollierThis is a perfect short story to teach around Valentine's Day. The story follows a young man named Alan who is desperate to make a woman named Diana fall in love with him. So desperate, in fact, that he is willing to use a love potion! Students always eat the story up, but what I love most about it is that it requires students to use inferential thinking to fully understand the plot. I also follow up with a fun post-reading activity called “Abby and Andrew’s Advice Column” where students give Alan romantic advice from a male and female perspective.
-Bonnie from Presto Plans

After I stood in Neruda’s home and looked out over the South Pacific as he did to write, I saw why students catch his passion for poetry, life and love. For Valentine’s Day, they listen to favorite verses that earned Neruda’s 1971 Nobel Prize. They enjoy Valentine’s Day through Neruda’s eyes in: 1). poetry published for a class collection. 2). lyrics composed from multiple intelligence strengths, and 3). interactive tasks completed from Neruda’s viewpoint. Lessons include assessment criteria, two-footed questions to tap into Valentine themes, and activities to engage students’ unique interests - more in a spirit of Valentine’s playful celebration of verse than a fear of poetic forms that hold some writers back. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Nothing is more appealing to many high school teens than 
illicit love. No doubt, children and their parents have disagreed about boyfriends and girlfriends since the time of the Ancient Greeks. This conflict has been the theme for innumerable texts, from classic Shakespeare plays, to young adult fiction, to an article in The New York Times. In this lesson, students read an excerpt of the play and connect their reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to an article, “Modern Love- Breaking our Parents’ Rules for Love,” about a real-world couple facing disapproval from their parents. The article makes relevant connections, and the lesson culminates in a writing activity selected from a menu of writing options.
By Kim from OCBeachTeacher

Annabel Lee by Edgar Alan Poe
In Middle School, students are fascinated by Poe as an eerie, dark and mysterious author. So imagine their shock when they realize the same author could write a poem like "Annabel Lee"! I bring this poem out during Valentine "season" because I enjoy their opinions on "true love" and whether the narrator genuinely has this love or if he just thinks he does. 
To accomplish this we study the poem as a bell-ringer activity where we focus on specific stanzas over the course of a few weeks. While we naturally study tone, reading skills like main idea, author's purpose, and inference, how to interpret the messages, and even some conventions, the best part is the discussion of open-ended questions like:

· Can envy destroy true love?
· What is true love?
· Can you love someone too much?

In many students' lives, relationships seem to be gone in a flash so watching students formulate their own definitions of true love based on thoughtful discussion is the cherry on top.

Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses
"Pyramus and Thisbe" is the ultimate story of forbidden love. My students enjoy this one because they usually haven't heard of it. Plus, it's short, has an exciting twist, and is laden with rebellion and desire. I enjoy incorporating this poem in mythology units (it's a perfect example of how myths explain the origin of something), during a study of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night's Dream (they always think it's scandalous that Shakespeare most likely stole his plot from Ovid), within poetry units (it contains student-friendly verse that doesn't intimidate students or bore them) and around Valentine's Day! We focus on interpreting symbolism, analyzing theme, and making connections to other movies and stories.
By Melissa from The Reading and Writing Haven

While love poems are great, sometimes students—and their
teachers—can use a break from the emphasis of romance that comes with Valentine’s Day. Reading The New York Times article about the entirely-unromantic St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, perpetuated by the infamous Chicago gangster, Al Capone, is a good way to still include a timely holiday-related activity and also practice reading informational text. The text is long—about 2,000 words—so reading questions can help guide students in their task. Finish off with critical thinking questions and class discussion about the legacy of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre and of Capone!
By Ms. Dickson from High School English on a Shoestring Budget

This Year's Valentine by Philip Appleman
In 2003 as American forces prepared to invade Iraq, poets began a resistance movement using poetry as their weapon. The Poets Against The War website was inundated with

contributions from around the world, and before long, 13,000 poems filled its pages. Philip Appleman and his poem "This Year's Valentine" supported not only the resistance movement but also neatly fit a major theme of the month of the buildup: Valentine’s Day. This poem, despite its alarming content, is a joy to teach since students find the description and stark contrasts surprising and refreshing, and, as one of my teen students put it, “Not that typical overly mushy love stuff that makes me want to gag.” Additionally, the poem allows you to show students that creative voices have the capability to produce unity among those who support a common cause and that those combined voices can, perhaps, effect change.
By Maryann from Secondary Strategies

Why Domestic Violence Victims Don't Leave
TedTalk by Leslie Morgan Steiner
In high school, our students can get obsessed with love, relationships, and dangerously close to defining their self-worth by the person they're dating. Leslie Morgan-Steiner's TedTalk "Why Domestic Violence Victims Don't Leave" is a chilling and powerful video to share with students. I've used it in my after school Women's Leadership Academy for open

discussion. It's also a great video to stimulate research into other social justice issues and writing. It was shocking to hear students discuss the ways in which they've witnessed this at home or in relationships - so be sure to give your social workers a heads up and proceed with caution. This Valentine's Day, take this opportunity to shed some light on the dangers in the dating world and empower your students to get out of bad situations and make smart choices!

Not sure if one of the ideas from above will work in your classroom?  Then you may also want to check out some of these other love-themed texts: 

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18
Love Song For Lucinda by Langston Hughes
The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst
Edmund Spenser's Sonnet XXX

What texts would you add to the lists above?  Please share in the comments!

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