Thursday, January 22, 2015

Journalism Lesson - “Analyzing Front Page Stories”

Newspaper Front Page
Before Middle and High School journalism students write their first news, feature, sports story or editorial...
Before Middle and High School journalism students even write a lead...
Before Middle and High School journalism students compose that mind-catching headline, they need to understand what they need to know to compose an effective news story.

The 6 Primary Points of Journalism Stories form the foundation of any journalism piece and are the bait that hooks readers.  They are
Location –where the story takes place
Timeliness - the relevance of the story to its publication date
Notable People/Places – the people/place(s) that make the story newsworthy
Conflict - the issues that make the story newsworthy
Extraordinary Elements – the details that make the story Front Page worthy
Arouses Emotions - the details that hook people into reading the story

No matter how powerful, how evocative a story might be, though, readers will ignore it if the newspaper editorial staff didn't pay attention to what their readers want. The how and why newspaper editors choose the stories that they print along with the 6 Primary Points of Journalism Stories create a winning newspaper that keeps people reading and asking, "More, please".

Analyzing Front Page Stories cover
This 6-page activity for Middle and High School journalism students, Journalism - Analyzing Front Page Stories speaks to both of these concerns.An essential for beginning journalism students, it also makes an excellent reinforcement tool for advanced journalism students.

These budding journalists will use the Front Pages section found on the Newseum site to choose front pages of newspapers from around the United States to analyze.

Here are the directions for the students
Activity Directions
  1. To begin this activity, go to and then scroll down the main page to Today's Front Pages and click on VIEW ALL. You should be on
  2. Under Gallery – go to Sort by Region, and then click on USA.
  3. Choose five Front Pages from newspaper around the country.  Select newspapers from a variety of states and from places of different sizes. 
  4. Complete one numbered Analyzing Front Page Stories Outline for each Front Page headlined story.
  5. For the Notes section under each Headline, just include the Basic: Who, What, Where and When information.  Because only the Front Page for each newspaper is shown and not complete stories, these notes will be brief.
  6. NOTE- space for 5 Headlines is included. Depending on the newspaper, anywhere from 3 to 5 headlines will be present.
  7. Each of you will share your headlines with the class.
  8. Closure, analyze your findings and summarize them in the What Does This Mean? space.

Analyzing Front Page Stories student handout
This activity encourages students to explore what stories newspapers choose for the Front Page and why. Also, students will develop their analytic and critical thinking skills which are essential in both print and broadcast journalism.

Download this 6-page activity that includes detailed Teacher Notes and the necessaryhandouts for the students from

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Secondary Smorgasbord - "Out of the Deep Freeze with Activities that Sizzle"

Secondary Smorgasbord - Out of the Deep Freeze

One of the first lessons that we teachers learn on our side of the desk is –Always Expect the Unexpected.

  • Planning Periods we set aside for creating tomorrow’s character activity is preempted by an emergency meeting.
  • Sunday afternoon, one of our children is flattened by the flu, leaving the writing activity we were typing in Sleep Mode on the computer.
  •  On that dreary Friday afternoon we had designated as Independent Reading Day we have to scramble through our lesson files for a dynamite activity because the Principal has strolled in for an unannounced observation.
When the Unexpected barged into my best-laid teaching plans, I always feared that my brain would freeze and fizzle instead of swell and sizzle when I desperately needed an engaging activity that addressed reading comprehension, writing and critical thinking skills.

This trio of objectives-

  • Be prepared the unexpected,
  •  Save my weekends for my family and me, and
  •  Keep a folder of flexible and sizzling activities
The House of Comprehension
led me to create a packet of activities that focused used the elements of literature as my vehicle to explore the basic benchmarks I mentioned in the last paragraph. Originally called Get R.E.A.L Reinforcing Elements for Literature, Compass Publishing saw it and asked me to turn it into a complete teaching program, The House of Comprehension (HOC), so my colleagues in the classroom would always be ready to Expect the Unexpected.

The sizzle starts with three charts that I always find crucial to planning a unit that will engage students and hook any administrative observer.

Timing of Activities

The House of Comprehension Timing of Activities p. 1The House of Comprehension Timing of Activities p. 2


Unit Structure Chart
This is a Sample; the book offers a blank chart for teachers.

The House of Comprehension Unit Structure

Activities Plan
This is a Sample; the book offers a blank chart for teachers.

The House of Comprehension Activities Plan

These three charts, along with the Common Core Anchor Standards and Bloom’s Taxonomy suggestions detailed on every Teacher Notes page, form the foundation to any literature unit I create. Once I detail the particulars on them, I choose the activities that I will use from the 40 printables offered in HOC.  Each activity includes a Teacher Note page that explains the Who, What, When, Why and How for each lesson. The open-ended aspect of the activities offers challenges to all secondary students. The Contents page shows the complete structure of the book.

The House of Comprehension Table of Contents

Even when I don’t need to plan a unit, I know that on a day when an unexpected cold settles in my head, or the period is shortened due to a sleet storm, I can open The House of Comprehension and find an activity that will pull my students and me from the literal and figurative deep freeze and into the warmth of learning.

Also, not only are the activities in HOC flexible enough to fit any text-fiction or narrative non-fiction- but they also  coerce my brain to leave the deep freeze for the heat that comes while creating a new lesson.

Thank you Pamela Krantz and Darlene Anne Curran for showing The House of Comprehension the way out of the deep freeze.

Happy Teaching,

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

English Language Arts: "Martin Luther King Day Activity - 'Dare to Dream'"

Teaching across the curriculum has always been a focus of mine. After all, reading comprehension, writing and higher-level thinking skills are not exclusive to English classrooms. Having students examine why a piece is endemic to the time period when it was written is crucial. When they study the social, political and spiritual mores as well as the traditions of a period they can understand the characters, their choices and the events that occurred more readily.

"Martin Luther King Day Activity - 'Dare to Dream'"
This pairing can be just as effective when starting with an event from a previous period and showing it through the eyes and minds of a literary or narrative non-fiction person.  With this Martin Luther King Day Activity- Dare to Dream, students use Mr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech as the podium for a character of their choice to voice his/her thoughts, beliefs and feelings.

To complete this activity, the students are to:

  • Read and or view and listen to Rev. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Two URLs are included-one to read and the other to listen and view.

  • Explain what aspects of his speech have come true in the 40+ years since it was delivered
    "Martin Luther King Day Activity - 'Dare to Dream'" Activity
  • Choose a character from the story that they are currently reading and summarize what he/she would say about the speech.
  • Write an "I Have a Dream" speech from the point of view of that character. This speech must show the societal values and beliefs of the time period in which the story takes place.

With this lesson, students will exhibit their range of thinking skills from knowledge through evaluation. These activities allow them to show their understanding of their reading from various texts as well as  to reveal their analytic and critical-thinking skills in their writing and speaking.

The speech writing aspect of this lesson helps students to understand Voice because the thoughts, beliefs and feelings that they express are not theirs, but are owned by the character they have chosen to speak. In order to compose this speech, the students show how clearly they can analyze this literary person.

On the due date, students have the opportunity to share a portion of their writing with their peers.

"Martin Luther King Day Activity - 'Dare to Dream'" Teacher Notes
Download this highly-rated activity that continues to develop students' reading, writing, speaking and listening and language skills from Complete with detailed Teacher Notes, it's a $1.25 bargain.

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Day Writing Activity - "Dynamite Resolutions for the New Year"

Teachers, this post offers you a few more days of relaxing, shopping, reading for pleasure, watching college bowl games, or indulging in whatever revives you best before you must unlock your classrooms after your much-deserved break.  This lesson, New Year's Day Writing Activity: Dynamite Resolutions for the New Year, will engage your middle and /or high school students as the first bell chimes while giving you an activity that meets comprehension, writing, thinking and speaking objectives.

As the New Year tick tocks its way into January, students’ brains need some prodding to shake off the cobwebs of long winter naps. This language arts activity sparks their comprehension, critical thinking and writing muscles as they consider the texts that they read and analyzed during the fall and early winter months. After they complete the handout and share their responses in a whole-class discussion that promises to be lively, their brains will be revved up for the next fiction or narrative nonfiction unit.

For this lesson, New Year's Day Writing Activity: Dynamite Resolutions for the New Year, students will choose five people from any of the reading they have completed so far this school year, and will create a New Year’s Resolution for each one. Each decision must be one that fits the character’s disposition, morals, values and temperament.

After the students create this pledge, they must explain
  •  why the character made this decision,
  •  why this is a logical choice for him/her, and they
  •  must also include the title and author for each story that they use.

To score this activity, allot 1 point each for the character, the title and the author; 3 points for each Resolution, and 4 points for the Reason -10 points per each character response, and 50 points for the whole worksheet.

Character: Goldilocks; Goldilocks and The Three Bears; Robert Southly
Resolution: I vow never to break into anyone’s house again.
Reason: My parents grounded me for breaking and entering, eating the Bear family’s food, destroying their furniture and messing up their beds. For three weeks I had to eat cold porridge, sit in a wooden chair and sleep on a wooden pallet with no mattress. That was no fun.

This lesson promises to add more bricks to students’ academic homes while they prove the premise that Learning is Fun.  Resolve to download this $1.25 bargain from

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Secondary Smorgasbord Presents "Teachers' Favorite Traditions"

A favorite teaching tradition for my students and me was the Casserly Café.  It always challenged students to harness their creative and analytic powers into an original performance that revealed their understanding of a basic concept for either my creative writing or English 11 or English 12 courses. 

These end of the semester presentations required creative writing students to compose an original piece-fiction, non-fiction or poetry - that visually exhibited their understanding of a writing concept. The English class assignment required the students to reveal their knowledge and perception of any literary or textual element of a story that we studied as a class.

Students’ presentations could take any form as long as they did NOT just stand in front of the class and read.  Over the years they created puppet shows that acted out stories they wrote; put their poetry to music, and videotaped original stories that they scripted into short movies.  Costumes and setting elements were required, even for a poetry recital. Once, a young lady draped a colorful scarf around her neck, donned a black beret and asked a friend to tap on bongos as she recited her original poems that delved into her insights of Albert Camus. Her backdrop was a PowerPoint slideshow of Parisian cafes from the 1930s.

Another time, a young man who loved Arizona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey made a huge Tea Man by nailing the empty cans to a board. He stood beside it when he presented his ode praising this drink. Afterwards he sent the poem to the company-along with a picture of him standing by Tea Man. They published it on their site.

Here are the Student Directions:

At the end of this semester, you will write and present a visually creative endeavor for the Casserly Café. Each day, 5-6 of you will dramatically present your prose or poetry.  Daily presenters are responsible for the food and drink for their class period.  The performances for creative writing students must exhibit your understanding of the writing concept you choose-fiction, narrative non-fiction or poetry.  English 11 and 12 students’ presentations must reveal your knowledge and understanding of the literary element or the author of any story we studied together.
Presentation Ideas:
1.       Write a script for a scene from an original story or one we read and perform it. This can be live or saved to a DVD.
  1. Prepare a poetry reading
  2. Dramatically read a fiction excerpt from an original short story. For English 11 and 12 students, you may compose an original scene for a story that we studied, keeping the characters, conflict and setting true to the original story.
  3. Compile a literary/art magazine
  4. Create a reality TV show.
  5. Write the lyrics for a song that shows the plot characters, setting, etc. of a story you wrote or one we studied.
  6. Show the literary elements of an original story-or one that we read- in a mural, collage, painting or any artistic endeavor.
  7. Design your own project and get teacher approval. Your options for your presentation are unlimited.  Let your imagination be your guide.
  1. Each performance must be a minimum of 5 minutes and a maximum of 10 minutes.
  2. To enhance your performance, dress the part, play background music, illustrate your writing, etc. Think, “How can I hook the class and teacher with the mood/persona that I want to reveal?”
  3. These performances must be live except for movies/plays that require a range of scenery and performers.
  4. NO: curse words, sexual innuendo, graphic violence or positive portrayal of drugs/alcohol.  Keep your writing and performance School Appropriate.
  5. Your job is to entertain the class with your work using any medium-music, art, etc. that will hook the audience with sight and sound.
  1. Turn in a rough draft and final copy of what you will present.
  2. 50 points for the written material
  3. 50 points: refreshments (this must be representative of a textual aspect in your performance.
  4. 100 points for the performance
  5. *If this is a group endeavor, each person will receive an individual grade, and these grades will be averaged for the performance grade.
Grading Table
Dramatic Presentation

Speaking Clarity

Performance Enhancements


Entertainment Quality

Written Material


TOTAL _________/200

Note 1:  Three students who volunteer to decorate the classroom with strings of lights, battery-operated candles, etc . will earn up to 5 Extra Credit points each.
Note 2: Three students other than those in Note 1 who volunteer to make sure that the room is cleaned up at the end of class will earn up to 5 Extra Credit points each.

Teachers, to create a performance tradition in your class- no matter the subject area- think about how the students can show their knowledge and understanding of a concept by combining writing and sensory imagery: Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste and Touch.

Showcasing Science, History Enactments, Math Functions, French Feats, or Creative Cafe anyone?

Thanks to two of my teacher friends, Pamela Krantz (  and Darlene Anne Curran ( hosting  the Secondary Smorgasbord Bloghop.

Happy Teaching, Happy Traditions,

For other lesson ideas, drop by my store

Friday, November 28, 2014

Celebrate a TpT Super Cyber Savings Sale and a Brand New ELA Freebie!

This Super Cyber-Savings Sale is a BIG Deal, folks. 
Buyers will save up to 28% with sellers discounts along with TpT's bonus when they use the 
Promo Code: TPTCYBER.

And to add a little sweetness to your carts, how about a brand new FREEBIE to keep kids tuned in and turned on to learning?

Comprehension and Writing - "Sing, Sing a Story"
The debate about what motivates adolescents the most-food or music-is ongoing. This FREE Middle and High School ELA activity, focuses on food for students' minds,hearts and souls- Music.

Students choose one of two projects to complete in pairs, and if need be,one trio.

For "Option 1: A Lyrical Conversation," each duo/trio chooses a situation from the story that presents clear characters and conflict. After summarizing the circumstance, they create a dialogue that is formed from 90% existing song lyrics that show the conflict and characters.The narrative elements should be in regular prose.Here is segment of the example for this option from a scene in Geoffrey Chaucer's, The Nun's Priest's Tale:

“I’m so hot, hot, hot,” Chanticleer bragged as he strutted through the barnyard. (4)
Comprehension and Writing - "Sing a Story" p.3

“Ooh, He’s so-o-o fine…wish he were mine.” the Hen Chorus cackled. (5)
Partlet just yawned and pecked at the seeds by her feet. “He’s so vain.” (6)
Lurking in the bushes, Mr. Fox watched all the boasting and smacked his lips. “Gimmie some fillet o’chicken; gimmie some now.” (7a) To Chanticleer he said, “Dawg, you’ve got some pipes. That was hot!” (7b). Then he pounced on the rooster. 

Note: the numbers in the parentheses are song/singer/lyricist/speaker citations.

For "Option 2: A Song Story," students-again in pairs and one trio, if uneven class numbers exist, summarize the whole story-or novel- and then create a song-story, like Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer,: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody,or Tracy Chapman's, "Fast Car".The story that the students spin must clearly, yet succinctly, show the whole story-its characters and conflict.

How do teachers use this activity? They introduce the activity by reviewing the Introduction and the Directions on pages 3 and 4. After reading the directions for "Option 1: A Lyrical Conversation," they ask students to offer suggestions of lyrics for characters’ words from the story. Then, after reading the directions for "Option 2: A Song Story," they ask students to name a song-story, the artist and to summarize the story.

For the teams, teachers either divide the students into pairs or allow them to choose their partners. If the class number is uneven, students may group into one trio for "Option 2: A Song Story". Students should have time in class to work on this activity, such as 30 to 55 minutes, depending on their skills and abilities.

To finish this activity, students may work in class the next day, and/or complete it as a
Comprehension and Writing - "Sing a Story" p.4
homework assignment. Teachers select their desired option, depending on their students’ skills and abilities and their objective(s) for the activity.

Teachers should set aside 2-3 days for the students to present their completed projects in front of the class. They will either pick the students to present each day, or randomly choose the first pair/trio on the due date, and then have those students select the pair/trio that will present next, and so on until all students have presented.

After each pair/trio has shared their project, they must turn in their final packet consisting of the typed Final Draft, the activity worksheet (page 5 of this packet) and any other notes.

With "Sing, Sing a Story," students will be thrilled to keep tuned in to their music and turned on to showing their comprehension, writing and higher level thinking skills. Teachers will want to dance to the music of their students' learning.

Download this FREEBIE from

Happy Teaching,

Friday, November 14, 2014

Secondary Smorgasbord 'Happy Hour'- "Just Say, "NO!" to Dull Writing"

Two of my teacher friends, Pamela Krantz (  and Darlene Anne Curran (, who I had the sheer pleasure of meeting at the TpT Conference in Vegas this past summer, have started a terrific blog- Secondary Smörgasbord.

Their first endeavor is aptly called, Happy Hour.  Whether teachers are enjoying a face-to-face Happy Hour, on an online one like this collaborative event, we love to share our favorite lessons-those that make the "Aha! I get it!" light sparkle in our our students' eyes. Since my year-long, Just Say, "NO!" to Dull Writing activity has always been one of my go-to middle and high school lesson plan stars that made my students and me, happy, happy, happy. I want to share it with you all for this Happy Hour

On the first day of school, the Taboo Words and Phrases list was always the first handout that I gave to my students immediately after we reviewed the syllabus and classroom rules and expectations ("Responsibility, Reliability, Respect and No Excuses form a two-way street in this classroom.").

Just Say, "No!" to Dull Writing Taboo Words and Phrases
 Not only did I explain to the students that they were required to refer to it for any writing-graded or non-graded - but I made a poster of it to hang in the classroom and I taped a copy of the list to each desk. I never, ever started a writing activity without reminding my students to refer to it.

Although it is a integral part of 'Chapter 2 - The Foundation' in my teacher resource book, The House of Comprehension, I offer it in my TpT store for FREE. The  list and coordinating lessons are crucial for empowering students to write clear, specific sentences instead of those with meaningless word choices and weak structures. 

Here are some suggestions for using this product:

1. The first day of school, hand out the Taboo Words & Phrases sheet to every student. Explain that they are to refer to it every time that they revise a draft of an essay, an original poem or fiction piece, or a narrative article. Mention that even if they only revise for these particular words and phrases, their writing will dramatically improve.
2. Discuss 
- that when they use these weak and clichéd words and phrases, their writing is vague, emotionless, and tells instead of shows.
- that no matter what type of writing they are composing, they should strive to create word pictures; 
- that their writing must show, not tell, and to do this they must use concrete, specific nouns and adjectives, and
- that Verbs form the backbone of writing, and should always show action as well as the emotion of the subject performing the action.
3. Write some sentences on the board that use these weak words and phrases, and have students revise them for strength and clarity.
4. Repeat this information over and over to the students and address it on their final drafts.
The Taboo Words & Phrases List also works as a poster to hang in the classroom. For a poster, add the following information:
Taboo Words & Phrases List

Effective Writing:
• -Shows instead of tells
• -Creates word pictures
• -Uses concrete, specific nouns and adjectives
• -Uses strong verbs to form the writing’s backbone; verbs must show action and emotion

The other day, former student who is now a senior in college asked me to send this list to her. On my Facebook Profile page she said, "Mrs. C- I am tutoring at CNU's writing center and have to do a presentation on making writing "concise and precise." Could you send me a copy of your taboo words list please? It has been and will continue to be the best advice on writing well that I've found " (Olga S). 

When this Taboo Words and Phrases list impacts your students' thinking and writing, their eyes will sparkle with that, "I get it" light that we teachers love like it did-and still does- for Olga. Like with her, it will become a lifelong tool, too.

Download it from

May all of your teaching hours be Happy!.

Happy Teaching,

Note: for another lesson which is also a part of The House of Comprehension's 'Chapter 2 - The Foundation,' try my Primary FreebieLanguage Arts Comprehension Check:Ten Sentence Format.

Language Arts Comprehension Check:Ten Sentence Format