Laughing All The Way with Classroom Celebrations

No doubt, my students will be the first to claim that I ask them to work hard in English class. I assign 30 minutes of reading and vocabulary homework each night, including weekends! I expect time in class to be used for learning, so there is very little “down” time in our 90-minute class periods. However, along with the expectations to be sedulous and studious, I think it’s appropriate to have fun on occasion. Thanks to hosts, the Language Arts Classroom and Julie Faulkner, read on to find out about fun activities from my class and other creative bloggers, and don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter at the end of this blog post.

Learning should be engaging and joyful; that’s what makes it memorable. I especially enjoy creating activities and events which celebrate the end of long units, or after standardized testing and around the holidays. Here are two celebrations that I love!

1. For several years, when I taught middle school and
younger high school students, I organized a “Read-a-Latte CafĂ©” celebration. For the read-in, guest speakers joined my students in reading aloud from favorite books/poems/etc. and discussing the importance of reading in their work and personal lives. Some of our guests included Sherman the Shorebird (the mascot from our local Minor League Baseball team), the local mayor, a deputy sheriff, and a fire captain. Of course, parents and school staff participated, too, including the principal and varsity football coach. To make it extra fun, we decorated the classroom to create a coffeehouse atmosphere and served hot chocolate, tea, and pastries (food always makes school more fun). This activity works well for any holiday season or Read Across America Day.

2. I also like to celebrate the end of our reading of classic novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. For To Kill a Mockingbird, I host a tea party (read about it here) and when I teach The Great Gatsby, we create a Roaring 20’s Party (really, this assignment could be adapted to almost any novel). Besides being fun, these lessons incorporate essay assignments that require narrative and literary analysis writing. Students write from the viewpoints of characters and connect their characters to novel themes.
My drama students love this, too, because with the help of costumes and props, they “become” their characters and engage in role-play, joining the rest of their classmates who are also characters from the books. At the parties, students interview one another and use their reading of the novel to infer one another’s characters. They can also evaluate one another’s abilities to portray characters, judging whether each student has used dialect, dialogue, facial expressions, or body language fitting the assigned character. I also expect students to contribute to the party, and many display their baking and crafting talents. They can bring hor d'oeuvres and desserts, research appropriate music, or make invitations and decorations. We also engage the rest of our school community, inviting other teachers, school staff, and administrators.

In addtiion to celebrating our learning, the holiday season is a perfect time to encourage compassion. A fun Instagram activity gets students researching about people who are inspirational, have made personal sacrifices, or have demonstrated other #actsofkindness. Now, more than ever, it's important for students to research historical figures, local heroes, and others who exemplify kindness, tolerance, and generosity. You can download this free activity to use in your classroom also!




Want more ideas for experiencing joy in your classroom? Check out the blog posts from these fantasic teacher bloggers:




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Liven Up Reading Discussions

How do teachers make reading discussions engaging for students?  Back when I went to school (in medieval times :) reading and class discussion were not particularly creative.  Students read their books at home, and they answered comprehension questions on handouts or in whole-class discussion.  We rarely left our seats, looked closely at a text, or worked in groups. 

Of course, education has changed dramatically since I went to school, and as a teacher, I’ve tried to make reading discussion more engaging and meaningful.  Depending on my students, my objectives, and my text, I have a toolkit of discussion strategies to use in class.

Furthermore, my students read during Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) at least twice a week.  Even though administrators have encouraged students not to read in class (they think it’s a waste of time),  I base my professional decisions on my learning from experts such as Donalyn Miller  and Kelly Gallagher.  I’ve also benefited from multiple professional learning communities, including participating in twitter chat discussions with #2ndaryela and #aplitchat.
 
With these experiences in mind, I’m sharing some of my favorite reading discussion activities:


Anticipation Activities
In my experience, hooking students before they read is a key strategy.  Two ways to do this include using traditional anticipation guides and inquiry with text evidence. In a recent anticipation guide for Mark Twain’s, “The War Prayer,” students reported their level of agreement for the following statements:

A.  It’s unpatriotic if you do not support your country’s war efforts.
B.  Humor can be used to hurt others.

Not only do students share their opinions of these ideas, but they provide specific reasons to justify their thoughts.  The resulting discussions give students background for important topics and themes that arise in the text.

In the inquiry activity, students act like detectives and look closely at text.  In these text evidence anticipation activities, I prepare strips of sentences from an upcoming reading, cut them out, and laminate them (for future use).  

Then I give each student at least one line of text.  They write their lines on the handout and get out of their seats to gather lines from one another.  Once they’ve read and written a number of sentences, they analyze the text, draw conclusions, and make predictions about their upcoming reading. 

Numbered Heads
This is an easy discussion activity that involves cooperative learning.  Additionally, once students are familiar with the format, it can be used repeatedly.  Essentially, students review a text selection and answer several questions that are scaffolded, leading to multiple answers. 

To begin, students are arranged into heterogeneous groups of 3 – 5, and they work together to answer the questions.
Even though they work together, they’re all held accountable during “numbered heads.”  Students are randomly assigned numbers and when their numbers are called, they stand and share answers.  The trick, though, is to make it unpredictable by ensuring their numbers do not correlate with question numbers.  For instance, I may ask my numbers “ones” to stand and answer question number “four.”  Each student who is standing shares a part of the answer so that all standing students are able to participate. 

Close Reading Scenarios

I’ve expanded upon this idea from a student teacher with my own twist. The discussion handout revolves around an event from a novel and requires students to work together to investigate the text.  Recently, I completed this with Myrtle’sdeath in chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby.  After forming groups, each student selected a role such as the medical examiner, police investigator, witness, etc., to determine what actually happened in the accident. 

After completing the close reading, students read informational text about the laws, crimes, and punishments for driving while intoxicated in our state.  Next, they reviewed the “evidence” they gathered and determined which characters should be charged with crimes.  Finally, they provided a rationale for the criminal charges they would file.

Boxing
I tease students at the beginning of these discussions and tell them we will be “boxing” in class.  It’s corny but always gets a laugh.  Then I pass out sheets of printer paper, and students fold their papers into four “boxes”.  In each box, they complete a reading task for the pages we are reviewing.  These tasks often include drawing illustrations of important ideas and events, determining the meanings of words, identifying literary techniques and author’s purpose, and responding personally to the text.  After they work individually, they share in partners, small groups, or whole-class discussion. This is a simple strategy which involves minimal preparation and can also be used repeatedly! 



Written Conversation
Here is another great idea that I received from a student teacher.  In this activity, students have a conversation through their writing.  I give them a prompt related to the reading and after responding, they pass their papers to partners, who respond to the original writers.  In the response, the partner may evaluate, elaborate, or modify what the original writer shared.  This conversation continues back and forth with additional questions.  At the end of the silent (but written) conversation, we can discuss ideas together as a class.



Digital Task Cards
I’m using task cards to have
students review their reading in Google Drive.  My school is slowly moving to a 1:1 environment.  Our ninth and tenth grade students have been given laptops, but my 11th and 12th graders still use a laptop lab in class when I sign up to use them.  As I prepare for my students to be 1:1 next school year, I’ve developed activities for them to try in class. With these digital task cards, I use Common Core Reading Anchor Standards to create prompts, and let students select from several questions for their responses. 

I hope my activities can be used in your classes, too.  What ideas do you have for reading discussions?  Please share in the comments below.




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"Best of the Best" Secondary ELA Blog Hop

Best Ways to Teach Argument

Today I'm joining Secondary Sara and other fantastic teacher bloggers to share one of my best resources for teaching argument.  Ever since the move to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I’ve incorporated more practice with argumentative writing and the analysis of arguments.  These standards demand critical thinking skills from students and require frequent practice. Notably, as I've worked with the CCSS over the years, I've learned that there is a difference between teaching students to write traditional argumentative research papers and preparing them to analyze the effectiveness of an author’s argument, so they can write analytical essays about the author’s choices. With this in mind, here is how I organize my instruction.

The Traditional Argumentative Research Paper

Several years ago, I taught English 101 at the local community college as an adjunct instructor; this gave me experience teaching the argumentative essay, a major assignment in the college curriculum. My fellow instructors encouraged me not to assign essays about clichĂ© topics such as school uniforms, legalization of marijuana, or gun control. While these topics are fine to use, students often have opportunities to write about them in other classes and rarely have new ideas to bring to their writing. Thus, I needed a way for students to choose appropriate topics that would  be current, compelling, and interesting to read.

A useful tool for finding topics was The New York Times Room for Debate website. On a weekly basis, The New York Times invites experts to contribute short editorials with their opinions on timely issues. In fact, a recent visit to the website shows the following engaging topics:


What’s behind the spreading creepy clown hysteria?
Should every young athlete get a trophy?
Can a meme be a hate symbol?


Typically, four - six contributors provide insight with their positions on the topics. These are short articles that provide quick introductions, and students can use their reading as a starting point for more in-depth research with scholarly articles. 

Quick Practice with Argumentative Writing Prompts

There isn’t always time for my students to write longer argumentative essays, and I don’t have the time to grade several of these research papers in one semester. Consequently, I’ve developed shorter activities to give students practice with argumentative writing. One of my favorites, my best-selling Argument Bell Ringers, can be used in a variety of ways and gives students repeated practice on a myriad of issues. In this resource, which is on sale today, there are thirty engaging topics for teenagers including some of the following: distracted driving, electronics in class, the high school dropout age, employment restrictions for teens, cyber bullying, college entrance exam requirements, public displays of affection, tanning bed age restrictions, and over-prescription of ADHD medications.

These prompts present claims and students must brainstorm evidence, counterarguments, and refutation for the claims. They make useful bell ringers in my ninety-minute class periods but can be used as other activities or for different purposes in shorter classes. For instance, each bell ringer activity can be split over a three-day period, as students complete one section at the beginning of class for each day. These can also be used for cooperative learning; students can work in small groups to brainstorm ideas together.  Or, if preferred, a teacher can use them with learning stations.

Analyzing Author’s Craft
In my experience with PARCC, our state’s standardized literacy assessment, students don’t actually write traditional argumentative essays. Rather, they are expected to read texts and analyze the arguments presented by the writers. These texts are often primary and secondary sources from history such as "The Speech to the Second Virginia Convention," "Ain’t I a Woman?" and "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

To give students practice with this skill, I teach them to identify and evaluate the rhetorical appeals and structure of the arguments in these texts. An easy activity uses my free argument taskcards. These task cards are used after students have become familiar with the following terms: claim, reason (justification), evidence, counterclaim, and refutation. By using task cards, I can differentiate my instruction and make it more hands-on than giving a typical worksheet.

How do you teach argument?  What makes it interesting in your classroom?  I'm always interested in new ideas, so please share in the comments below.

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