Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lesson-Up Express: Making the Most of May

Middle and High School English Lesson Plans- Individual Novel Study Packet

Lesson-Up Express: Making the Most of May: doesn't sound like a very positive title, does it? Oh, but it is. Let me explain. Unless it has changed since I left the classroom two years ago, and I hear that it hasn't,  the merry month of May is more often than not a miserable morass with very little continuity for teachers and their students. Why? Simply put-TESTING. The first fifteen days of the month are set aside for nation-wide Advanced Placement testing, and the last two weeks, with seepage into June, students sit for the state standardized tests.

Even though I taught regular English 12 classes, many of my students took 3-5 other A.P. classes, but had chosen regular English for their final year in high school. That meant that for those first two weeks, I could have anywhere from nine to twelve or so students absent while they took A.P.exams in any academic area, and not just in my English classes. My creative writing and Journalism classes, all with students from 9th to 12th graders, were equally affected because so many of the seniors in these classes opted for a variety of A.P. classes, too.

The A.P. tests always ended on a Friday, and at 7:20 sharp the following Monday, the Standards of Learning tests began. Now classes were affected with multiple absences from 11th graders for the Reading Comprehension and Writing tests,and 10th and 12th graders taking tests in various other academic areas in math, science and social studies for the next two weeks,with make-ups in June. Those testing dates are carved in stone, so I know my colleagues and current students are still enduring this instructional nightmare.

Absent students were only part of the issue that interrupted effective teaching. All teachers had to monitor tests during free periods, too. Usually only 2-3 free periods were bothered, but that still added to the stress.  What was a teacher to do?

For years, I stubbornly tried to stick with a my usual agenda that combined a literature study with grammar, vocabulary and writing lessons. The problem was, so many students missed crucial Show Me and Help Me lessons, that they had a difficult time completing the Let Me aspects of the units.

Their need for one on one instruction led to many before school (yes-this meant 6:45 AM since school began at 7:20) and after school Time With the Teacher. Long days for all of us. Did I mention that if students had a morning exam, they didn't have to show up for their afternoon classes and vice versa?  That little detail made scheduling times to meet with each other almost impossible.

And the three-day Memorial Day weekend munched on students' motivation, too. Try pulling young people back on task after they have spent three days cavorting at the beach or chillin' at home. Forget any educational flame. The only light staying lit is the one on the family barbecue grills. They might not  officially be out of school for 2-3 more weeks, but mentally the kids had already left the building.

Much gray hair and many migraines later, I developed this Individual Novel Packet. Students choose the novel or narrative non-fiction book they want to read (with parent and teacher approval) and then complete two analyses aspects and one group requirement:
  1. General Novel Packets with four requirements: Book Notes, and Plot Diagram, Quotes and Theme activities,
  2. Formal Essay (500-750 words), and
  3. Group Project: Threads-Making Connections.
For this novel unit students select a book of their choice to read. For half of each class period, they are required to work on any segments of the project detailed above. The other half of the period you should lead whole class in reviewing or reinforcing a facet of writing, analysis, grammar, vocabulary or whatever academic knowledge or skill that you deem necessary.  At these points, incorporate an individual, small group or whole group session, whatever is needed to bring clarity to their confusion. Other times, you might need to review a missed concept or skill with test-takers who had been absent the day of the lesson.

Sometimes I'd notice that students were struggling with one of the requirements and needed time for a discussion even though most of their peers were reading different books than they were. Their discussions always proved to be engaging and exciting because they all had something to say about their chosen book. These conversations also helped students see how the elements of literature form the structure of any story and just how universal character traits, conflicts, and themes can be. They also set the foundation for the group project: Threads: Making Connections.

By using their class time wisely students will only will have to finish any typing and compile all segments of the packet at home right before they are due.  Remind them to bind all components of the packet together in some way-a folder with pockets is best.

Talk about a sanity saver for both the students and me! I didn't have to strain my brain and patience trying to keep them on task when they were acting like impacted wisdom teeth.  The students didn't have to worry about missing crucial lessons or scheduling a meeting time with me as they structured their class and home time themselves. For all of us, May continued to be  a Merry Learning Month and not a Legend of the Lost Lessons. 

Check it out yourself. Once you do, you'll be glad that you took the opportunity to ride on the Lesson-Up Express. Although this sounds like it's a plan for high school students, it isn't. Middle School teachers will make this their go-to plan, too because, no matter their grade level, all students are more absorbed in academic work when they have ownership in what they are learning, when they choose the reading material  to explore. Besides, in my state, eighth graders also endure state standardized tests which means teachers' schedules are upset.

This plan is also successful any time throughout the school year. For instance, I used to assign this  packet when the whole class was reading the same book.  Other times I'd choose 3 or 4 of the grade level but non-core books that I wanted to cover and gather enough copies- 9 each of three titles  or 7 each of 4 titles- for a class of 25-27 students. They would then choose the book that grabbed their interest after a quick Pass the Book session and study it in groups, completing Parts 1, 2 and 3 on their own and #4 as a group. Most of the time, I liked to form the groups with mixed titles. This way, the less motivated students wouldn't feed off of their peers' work. Plus, this just made discussions more fun.

This packet is so flexible, you will think of multiple ways to mesh it with your program of studies and incorporate it into your school year. You will need to specify minimum length, genre and anything else you deem necessary for your charges.  But, my friends,with this packet, you will know that your students are challenging themselves mentally, are developing their reading comprehension, their higher level thinking and their writing skills with substance while enduring no loss of learning continuity.

This 12-page FREEBIE Individual Novel Packet is a definite Win-Win for all concerned. It includes complete Teacher Notes and a rubric for each of the three segments of the project. Download it from my TpT store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Activity-The-Lesson-Up-Express-Making-the-Most-of-May

Middle and High School English Lesson Plans-Novel Packet Instructions

Middle and high School English Lesson Plans- Novel Project Essay
Middle and High School English Lesson Plans-Making Connections Group Activity

Middle and High School English Lesson Plans-Grading Rubrics

How would you use this Individual Novel Packet?  Please share your ideas here.
Happy Teaching,

Saturday, April 27, 2013

No Time Like the Write Time to Care about Time

Is telling time by an analog clock still taught?

“Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care (about time)…?” 

Robert Lamm wrote and sung these lyrics for the band, Chicago, in 1969, a time when so many people were questioning the conflict of Superficiality vs. Significance. Forty-five years after he asked this question, I want to give him an answer- I care.
I care about time, well, telling time that is.

I care about writing right and thinking deeply.

I care about the Superficiality of so many edicts handed down to teachers in the name of progress that are overshadowing and undermining the Significance of learning.

In regard to time-telling time- let me share a story from my days in Room 216. While completing a group chart on the symbolism in The Stranger one October afternoon during Sixth Period, I noticed a trio of senior boys seeming to be spending more time snickering than scrutinizing Albert Camus’ words. When I sauntered by their desks, though, they were doing a credible job of adding examples and explanations from the story, so I left them alone, but kept an eye on them.

About five minutes later, one of the boys, I’ll call him George, jumped up, grabbed his back pack and ran from the room, a look of panic turning his eyes into half dollars.  As the door slammed behind him, his buddies burst into laughter.  Seeing my usual raised right eyebrow questioning glare, Bubba caught his breath and gasped, “We told him it was 2:05.”

George had shown me a check-out pass for two o’clock because he had a dentist appointment and needed to get out of the parking lot before the final bell so he wouldn’t be late. The analog clock ticking away above the door to my room gleamed 1:05. This young man sported a digital watch crowded with the time, a lap timer, a countdown timer, military time and an hourly chime, but he Couldn’t. Tell. Time on an analog clock. Big Hand? Small Hand? They might as well have been hieroglyphics to George .

“Didn’t your parents and teachers have you learn this when you were in elementary school?” I asked.

“Mine tried,” Amy said, “but the TV, computers, microwave and all are digital in my house, so it was hard.”

“Same here,” Tyler said. “My teacher had us make clocks from paper plates with construction paper hands, and told us to practice at home, but it was much easier to look at any of the digital clocks in the house.”

Incredulous, I just shook my head as told them to get back to work while Tyler laughed and said, “You need to get with the times, Mrs. C.” His comment made me wonder if analog clocks were now obsolete. ..or if I was.  I just toured my house. We have exactly one
analog clock- an ancient alarm clock perched on the night stand in the guest bedroom. Oh, and our watches. My husband’s and mine have dials.

A few weeks later, that same class of seniors and I had another Close Encounter of That Was Then-This is Now.  As I offered information about the themes in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, I scribbled points about surrealism, alienation, animalism and various other literary terms on the board while I talked. I say scribbled, because I have never been on friendly terms with my small motor control, and my half print/half cursive handwriting clearly showed this. Every year my students had to learn to decipher my comments on their papers. Their “What does this say, Mrs. C?” type of questions never stopped me from writing them, though, or kept them from understanding what I wrote. They learned because they had no choice.

About half way through my lecture, I turned around and noticed only one student taking notes. “Why aren’t you writing this down?” Annoyance edged my sigh. “You know the rule- if I write it on the board it’s fair game for a test.”

“I type a lot faster than I print,” Bubba said. “I’ll remember.” He smiled and tapped his head.

“So write in cursive.”

Rolled eyes and “Get Real” laughter filled the room. Amy explained that most of their schools didn’t teach cursive because they spent the time on material that would be on the SOL tests. “Teachers want us to type our papers, anyway, and we don’t need to know cursive to send texts or emails,” she added.

Just then, Connor sauntered to the front of the room, aimed his smart phone at the board a clicked a picture. “See,” he said as a big grin spread across his face. “Who needs to write down notes?”

Choosing to hand out the novels  while my blood pressure crept down to the safe zone, I told the students to read the first ten pages and come up with at least one example for each of the terms on the board. Then I said to Connor, “You’d better hope that your professor allows the 250 kids in his English 101 seminar to record his lectures on your phone and doesn’t smash it like the guy in the YouTube video.”

I turned to the whole class, “Some professors have you complete massive amounts of reading and only test on their lectures, too. Note-taking isn’t a lost art, my dears.”

Why do schools still need to teach writing in cursive?
Cursive Writing Sample

Because actually forming the letters develops thinking skills since the brain pings on the letter to write and sends the message to the hand. Grasping a pencil/pen and then forming the letter hones eye-hand coordination.

Writing, be it cursive, printing or a mixture of both (which most people do) promotes listening skills, and employers will check their candidates for short term memory/listening skills.  

Writing is needed for those dreaded Blue Book college exams, for SOLs, SATs, GREs,  LSATs and the vast majority of licensing exams. Typing is not permitted.

Writing-Note Taking- is needed in meetings detailing mortgage loans, doctors diagnoses, and during boss/employee sessions.

Spelling, capitalization and punctuation will always count as will comprehending reading. GrammarCheck is quite fallable. Don't count on it.

Writing in cursive isn’t required legally-maybe it should be if we want a population that can think clearly and write coherently besides earning Proficient ratings on standardized tests.

A statistic that I learned in a college education class explained that if students just listened to a lecture/lesson, in a week they would forget about 90% of the material; if they read it and talked about it, in a week they would remember about 60% of the material, but…but, if they listened, took notes and then discussed the material, in a week they would remember about 90%. If students can’t write about it, can they truly understand the material?

Is cursive becoming as obsolete as analog clocks, too?

Someday, will my grandchildren click onto Facebook- or its futuristic facsimile- and see pictures of analog clocks, the Declaration of Independence in all of its cursive glory, mortgage papers and signed checks with captions asking, “Remember This?  like my friends posst of recyclable glass milk and soda bottles, metal  (not plastic) TV character lunch boxes and clothes lines?

Will the significance of teaching children to tell time on an analog clock or to write in cursive fall victim to quicker and more trendy but less substantial brainchildren?

“Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care…?”

Howdy Doody always knew what time it was-he always cared. So do I.

Until next week,

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Word Up With the Power of Words

Middle and High School English Lesson Plans- Vocabulary StudyRudyard Kipling said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”  That’s a fact! I know it because I have been a word fanatic ever since my Aunt Catherine, an elementary school teacher, taught me to read when I was four years old. My aunt turned me on to words. As teachers, we need to do the same for our students.

How do I love words? Let me mention a few ways:
  1.  I love how onomatopoeia gently bumps the insides of my mouth like my cat head thumps my leg.
  2.  I love the smell of sizzling bacon.
  3.  I love the sound of gurgling brooks and crashing waves.
  4.  I loved my mother’s cool hand whispering over my burning forehead when I had the flu.
  5.  I love Markus Zusak’s word picture from The Book Thief, “Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”
Because of his word magic, Markus Zusak often traps my mind and imprisons me on his Train of Thought. Some times, I am so entranced by his way with words that I forget what I should be doing. In fact, an hour ago, I was mindcuffed by his words once again.
  •  "I would rather chase the sun than wait for it," (I Am The Messenger).
  • "I think she ate a salad and some soup. And loneliness. She ate that, too," (I Am The Messenger).
  • "She assaults me with her version of the truth," (I Am The Messenger).
I have to quit lapping up his quotes like chocolate marshmallow bunnies. Instead, I need to share with you, my classroom colleagues, a few more ideas you can employ to turn your students into word fanatics. About a month ago, I posted a blog, Amplified Vocabulary Lessons: When Words Speak-Students Listen (http://teachitwrite.blogspot.com/2013/03/amplified-vocabulary-lessons-when-words.html) offering 31 vocabulary lessons to engage visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

Yesterday, when I was pondering what to do for today’s writing, grammar and vocabulary theme blog, my mind landed on, “ Create more activities that will persuade students to swell their word banks.” From past experience, I know better than to ignore Edith, the Idea imp who loves to tickle my thoughts.

Today, I am including another activity with this blog, Word Up With the Power of Words. This quartet of activities- two for individual study and two for teams- will allow students to show their prowess with words in a variety of contexts while exhibiting their range of thinking skills from simple to complex. These activities allow them to reveal their understanding of the nuances of various vocabulary words as well as their creative and analytic writing skills. Best of all, by completing these activities, students will boost their word banks and will have the power of words to rely on in the world outside of academia.

Download this Common Core and Bloom's Taxonomy aligned product that includes four activities and complete teacher notes from my store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Language-Arts-Vocabulary-Activity-Word-Up-With-the-Power-of-Words-676190

 Middle and High School English Lesson Plans-Vocabulary Teacher Notes
Middle and High School English Lesson Plans-Vocabulary Activity

Middle and High School English Lesson Plans-Vocabulary Activity
Middle and High School English Lesson Plans-Vocabulary ActivityMiddle and High School English Lesson Plans-Vocabulary Activity 

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing Activity - Specific Word Choice and Tone: "Talk to Me"

Talk, talk, talk. I don’t have any statistics on how much of their lives people talk, but I would imagine that the number is way over 60%, depending on living status, jobs, social activities, etc. Talking alone doesn't result in tears, laughter, hugs or anger, though. 

Word choice, tone, inflection and body language cause these as well as a whole gamut of emotional reactions. All four qualities play a part in what people hear, and as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “Ay, there’s the rub”.

The rub is often the result of students’ not fully understanding a characters because they misinterpret what they say. They see the words, but don’t hear the tone or get the underlying subtext.

The rub is the result of students not understanding how to properly format direct quotations that show correct capitalization and punctuation.

The rub is teacher concern because their students are not showing the level of critical thinking they need to fully comprehend character.

These Common Core and Bloom’s Taxonomy aligned lessons reinforce previously learned concepts, promote comprehension and instill inductive, deductive, critical and analytic and creative thinking skills orally and in writing. Quote Journals: He Said…She Said is for individual instruction. For this activity, which should be introduced at the beginning of a novel study, students copy down citations and direct quotations that strike an emotional chord in them. Then the student imagines a conversation between him/herself and the character which they write it in proper dialogue format.

Suggestion- if you feel that your students need to work on writing dialogue format correctly, check out Grammar: Banish Those Dialogue Demons https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Grammar-Banish-Those-Dialogue-Demons-664964 for a few lessons.

 Acting Out  is for working in pairs.  Each student duo chooses a dialogue to role play.This must be a conversation that increased the tension and that was critical to the final outcome of the story. After that, they create a new one for the same situation, but that shows a different outcome.

Together, the variety of skills embedded in these lessons address visual and auditory learners. The Teacher Notes show that both follow the Show Me, Help Me, Let Me teaching philosophy that I attempt to follow in all of my lessons. 

Teenagers love to talk aloud.  These activities encourage them to write right as they talk on paper.

Download this activity from my store and let the talking begin.

Happy Teaching,


Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Students Want: In Their Own Words

As teachers, we spend the majority of our time asking our students for results.  We ask them to complete assignments on time, to study for tests, to be on time to class, to come prepared to learn, to think, to respond, to write, to be responsible, to be reliable and to be respectful. Why? We want them to succeed in school.

The results that we face in regard to required benchmarks, state test preparations, AYP, administrative exhortations to, “Fulfill all professional duties in a timely manner,” as well as special requests from counselors and parents sap our energy.  Why? We all want our schools to succeed.

We often don’t have a minute to take a breath.

We often don’t have the in-depth class time that we desire to spend on our teaching goals and objectives.

We often forget to ask ourselves, “What do my students expect from me?”

Before I retired, I asked my young people to make a list on the topic: What students want from their teachers.  Then I explained that they were to consider this issue in relation to what they felt most affected their success in school. These responses are from 150 ninth through twelfth graders enrolled in AP, regular, or teamed Special Ed classes, as well as from former students who have kept in touch with me (and one newspaper editor I recently met). They span all ethnicities, genders and socio-economic levels. Each person wrote down his/her top request for teachers

Here is their What Students Want:  A Top 12 List and a Short Essay. These responses are their own unedited words.
  1. Return graded work on time and with comments. “We didn’t do all of this work for nothing.”
  2.  I want to be able to understand why teachers do things-like why we have certain weights on grades and why we get marked down a few points if we were absent on the day homework was due.
  3. Teachers must have an unfaltering sense of humor.
  4.  Don’t tell me to learn a chapter at home. Ask me to read it, but it’s your job to teach it so I can learn it.
  5. Don’t assign groups to read something from the text and then to teach/present a section to the class as Student Experts. This is a terrible way to teach.
  6.  Make me cupcakes!
  7. If I don’t understand what’s going on, I expect my teacher to explain it in a different way than by using only the examples in the book. They didn’t make sense to me when I read them; that’s why I asked.
  8. I won’t ask you to notice the invisible kids…but at least act like you see us.
  9. Realize that, no, this isn’t my only AP class, even though you think yours is the most important, and that I’m not fond of suffocating under stacks of papers.  Is this the only class that you teach?
  10.  Stop calling on the same people over and over. There are 30 people in a class…not just 3.
  11. Please let me eat!
  12.  Be patient when we ask questions; if the teacher gets frustrated, we won’t ask for help again.

About a year ago, I mentioned this topic to the Editor-in-Chief of a local online newspaper, The Herndon Patch, when she was interviewing me for an article. She mentioned that she had hated English because she always felt that she was wrong, no matter what she said or wrote.

 A few weeks ago, when I heard that she was leaving journalism to begin another career, I chatted with her and mentioned how much her comment still resonated with me. Too often over the years, I heard similar comments from young people, be they my own kids, their friends or students. She wrote down her story for me and gave me permission to include it in a blog.

Here is what Leslie wrote in response to the topic, “What I want from teachers”… in her own words.

     Growing up English and language arts classes were my absolute favorite. I'm addicted to reading and I've always loved writing. It's always come naturally to me. I always had high grades in language arts, often above 100 percent. However, when I was a sophomore in high school I had a teacher who I could never seem to please. I would write the assignments as she asked to the best of my ability and somehow still get bad grades. 

     Eventually I figured out it was my personality and attitude that she didn't like. I was an angst-filled teenager with all the emotions that go with it, and she didn't like my ‘negativity’.  Once I realized this, I began writing my papers how I thought she wanted me to complete them and suddenly my grades improved drastically. I passed her class with something like a C+. 

     This teacher had the same problem with a friend of mine, referring to her as a "big ball of negative energy”.  My friend and I both had good reason to be moody teens. Our formative years were not always easy and both of us had major life events that had lasting impacts on us as teens. That was reflected in our writing. 

     After the horrible year of sophomore English, I decided I couldn't take traditional language arts classes any more if I was going to have people tell me I was wrong for writing my true feelings and experiences. So I decided to take journalism instead. My teacher was open, trusting and encouraging in everything I did, allowing me to explore journalism freely as a student. To fulfill my credit requirements, I spent my last two years of high school taking journalism, independent study photography and yearbook (I was yearbook editor) instead of English classes. 

     To say this experience has shaped my life is an understatement. It put me on the path to where I am now and really, everything I've done in the last decade since graduating from high school. 


The teacher-student relationship is like a two-way street.  Drivers need to be aware of everyone on the road with them, not just what they are doing. Quantitative findings about speed limits, the safest vehicles, etc. are important to a successful journey, but it’s the actions and reactions of people that give this data meaning. 

Teachers and students fuse their passions to build a successful learning environment. Statistics show no zeal.
Teachers and students reveal excitement, frustration, stress, or a myriad of emotions during any school day. Data doesn't put any credence on emotions.

Teachers and Students form the foundation of a school system. Without them, educational statistics would have no basis to exist.

If the teacher-student two-way street is to bear the necessary emotional and academic traffic, if their ideas and passions are to complement each other and create a smooth flow, if they both are going to finish their trip and not crash and burn, then they must communicate.

This top 12 list and short essay is sure to open any jammed communication lines.

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Write Right: Banish Those Dialogue Demons

I could feel the dread twang my nerves as I glanced through Bubba’s original scene before settling down to edit and critique it. He had chosen to show the conversation Romeo and Juliet should have had instead of the one where they plotted using poison if their families kept them apart. My eyes skidded to a stop when they landed on the first dialogue between the besotted teens. “Oh, no! Not the dreaded Dialogue Demons…again!” my nerve endings screamed.

“How many more worksheets and grammar book exercises will it take,” I wondered as I tried to rub away the headache crouching behind my eyes, “until my students get proper dialogue formatting and punctuation?”

“Just one.” The creative genie in my head smiled as she waved an idea for teaching dialogue format at me. And just like that, the seed for my Thursday is Writing, Grammar, Vocabulary Day blog, “Banishing Dialogue Demons,” was planted in my mind. Well, not quite. Let me segue for a second and clarify that sentence- I first published “Banish Those Dialogue Demons” in NCTE’s Ideas Plus, Book Ten in 1992. What I am posting today is a much clearer and massively expanded version, one that is 13 instead of 2 pages.

My original goal remains-to reinforce students’ knowledge and understanding of proper dialogue format and punctuation resulting in stronger and more coherent writing when they need to show direct quotations (Common Core Standards: Writing: W3, 4, 5, and 10; Language: L1 and 2).

Here are the basic Teacher Notes. These are the condensed version. They are detailed in the product along with a page of student directions.

 Banishing Those Dialogue Demons
Days 1-4:
  1. Have students choose one of the following prompts or one of their own each day.
  2. They are to write a one page conversation that might occur between two people. 
  3. Use the Quotation Marks explanations in a grammar book of your choice. I used: Warriner, John E. English Composition and Grammar  Complete Course.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers: Orlando, 1988, 665-668.
  1. “Guess what I just heard?”
  2.  “I said, ‘Sit down!’” the principal muttered through clenched teeth as a muscle twitched in his jaw.
  3.  “I am so excited I’d float away if it weren’t for these boots,” Jenny said as she grabbed Todd’s arm.
  4. "And your excuse this time is what?" his father said as he blocked the door from the garage to the kitchen.
Character Cards
Day 5:
  1. Divide the students into pairs.  If there is an uneven number, one pair can become a trio.
  2.  Have each student choose a Character Card. Each card names an ordinary (a football player) or an outlandish character (a skunk).
  3. Have each pair choose a Setting Card. This is where the conversation will take place (a pond, a school cafeteria, Mount Everest, etc.).
  4. Students take one minute to decide on: the topic of conversation, who will play which  character, and which student will “speak” first.
  5.  From this point on, NO talking is allowed.  Any “speaking” will be done on paper.
  6. Student 1 opens the conversation with the first character speaking, and then passes the paper to character 2.  This person reads what is written and responds in writing.
  7.  Continue this process for fifteen minutes.  The conversation should show the characters, setting and conflict.  When finished, the piece should be 75% dialogue format, and 25% narrative with a few segments that show physical movements or actions in non-dialogue, explanatory mode. The “person” speaking here should be the 3rd person omniscient narrator (i.e. She stomped her foot and screamed.)
  8. When the time is up, students switch papers with another pair.  Each pair corrects that draft for quotation mark usage, proper dialogue format and punctuation, and then they return the paper to its rightful owners.
  9. Each pair now revises their paper for any errors, citing the rules in the margin. Example: (4)5. “When you write dialogue, begin a new paragraph every time the speaker changes.  One person takes the piece home to type up in final draft format.
  10.  Next class day: Each pair will read his/her conversation aloud, and then turns in both drafts, with the final, typed draft on top.

Setting Cards

This product offers: Complete Teacher Notes, detailed Student Directions, 30 Character Cards and 15 Setting Cards. If, at the end of the five days some students still haven’t fully grasped the concepts of this format, teachers can offer more dialogue prompts and revision work for remediation.

Suggestion: Here is a 20-minute remedial exercise: Have a student choose two Character Cards and one Setting Card. He/she now writes a short dialogue (take 15 minutes), and then uses the grammar book to proofread and revise the dialogue for format, punctuation and capitalization (5 minutes). The student should cite the rule number beside any error i.e. (4) 3. In the English Composition and Grammar text this one states: “Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside the closing quotation marks if the quotation itself is a question or an exclamation; otherwise they are placed outside,” ( 667).

May those dreaded Dialogue Demons be forever banished from your students’ writing.
Download this product from my Teachers pay Teachers store:http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Grammar-Banish-Those-Dialogue-Demons

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Poetry on Parade: Marching to the Beat

We are plugged in, tuned in, wired to and surrounded by poetry. Most of it swirls and twirls into our ears on waves of music, but our hearts and souls are also enriched by the beauty of words woven together to create lyrical Kodak moments. 

William Blake's The Tiger always colors my mind with the image of my favorite animal gliding through a leafy jungle forest:
"TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
Chicago may no longer be the "hog butcher of the world," but it is still perceived as a "Stormy, husky, brawling City of the Big Shoulders," thanks to the word pictures and ear music in Carl Sandburg's poem, Chicago.

Neil Simon's lyrics always resonate in my soul because the dance of his closely entwined lyrics and music    never fails to twang the strings of my emotions. Any of the verses from The Sounds of Silence have spoken to me for 49 years, especially this one:
"Fools", said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence..."

Adele's  Album 21 has accompanied my writing this morning. "We were born and raised, In a summer haze, Bound by the surprise of our glory days,"  (Someone Like You).

Why, then, do the flames that spark students' desire to learn often sputter when they face discussing and analyzing poetry? This educational conundrum dogged my planning for 30+ years, spawning effort upon effort to keep their interest burning instead of dying into piles of apathetic ashes. Two units that always stoked their interest were the Poetry In Motion unit (Lesson-Up Express: April Excursion-Poetry in Motion blog 4/1/2013) and today's offering, Poetry on Parade.

For this  two-week unit, the class listens to music, the teacher reviews the elements of poetry, the students research and then teach a poem focusing on one of the elements that they analyzed, and they also write a poem. The unit culminates with a test on the elements of poetry so the students can show their deeper understanding of the terms they studied.

This product is aligned with Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy. Its ten pages it include: Teacher Notes, complete student directions, a sign up sheet where students select a teacher-chosen poem to prepare a lesson for and to present, an Imagery Activity sheet, a 60 point test with an answer key, and two rubrics: one for grading the students' analysis of their poem and the other to grade their presentation. Bonus: both rubrics can be used with any literary analytic essay and any presentation.

Why does it work? I think it's because it follows the Show Me-Help Me-Let Me teaching trinity.
Show Me: Teachers present the unit and review/reinforce previously taught poetic elements. 
Help Me: They guide students through researching the poems on the teacher-chosen list and preparing  the lessons that they will teach.
Let Me: Students prepare a teachable lesson on their poem.  They will cull through research and pick what they need to do this. They will reinforce their understanding of poetic elements and how they work by completing the Imagery Activity, by fully analyzing their poem and by composing one of their own. Finally, they will articulate their material in ways they deem will appeal to their peers and that will keep their them engaged.

It changes ho-hum attitudes into high five energy because the students have ownership in what they are learning. Best of all, for teachers, this offering is music to their ears because  it is FREE!
Download it from my store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Activity-Poetry-on-Parade

Here are a few images from the product to check out:

Happy Teaching,


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Teachers Teaching = Students Thinking

All too often lately, from conversations with friends still leading classrooms, from broadcast and print sources and from social media outlets, I am scorched with and saddened by teachers’ frustration. Their passion for teaching is fading because they feel that they can be tossed from subject to subject or from school to school at an administrator’s whim. They are tired of always being asked to do more but receive so little if any recompense in return. They are angry because they are being turned into data collectors when all they want to do is TEACH. They know that test scores are not the be all-end all, and if they are allowed to lesson up and teach write, as well as right, their students will learn and will pass any test because they can think.

They understand that in a typical high school English class, for example, during a unit on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, they will address the following concepts, (although their examples that follow in the parentheses will probably vary from mine):
  1. Characteristics of the Puritan Period (Theocracy, Historical Contexts, i.e. God determines peoples’ fate, societal values)
  2. Elements of Literature (characters, plot, conflict, setting, symbolism, theme, tone)
  3. Vocabulary and Literary terms (allegory, allusions, imagery, Bildungsroman)
  4.  Literature Genre (Drama-Realism, slice of life theater)
  5. Thinking Skills (character/plot analysis, cause/effect, sequencing, justifying)
  6.  Writing Skills (analysis, persuasion, describing, critiquing)
  7.  Grammar/Mechanics (prewriting/writing/revising/teacher assessment)
  8. Comprehension (study questions, discussions, small/large group work, assessments).

When English teachers plan any unit, by focusing on these concepts, especially Number 5, the students will know how to answer any questions that might crop up on a state, a standardized or an SAT test. They will know how to analyze any passage that the test presents to them. They will be able to write a response to a prompt that earns them a proficiency rating, at a minimum. Why?

The students have been taught to think, not just to spit out answers that may appear on a test, or that they think a teacher wants to hear. Thinking is the keystone of education. When taught how to think and to trust their minds, students develop confidence in their ideas and abilities as well as in their inductive and deductive skills. Basic concepts plus higher level thinking skills equals learning (and a passing test score).

A graduate of public schools just prior to the early seventies (high school 1966/college 1970), I was taught by Bloom’s Taxonomy methodology: remembering/understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. My teachers taught me to use both sides of my brain (although my left side remained eternally lethargic in regards to math). The college professors I had for my education classes instructed me how to do the same for my students.

Both Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Common Core Standards can be the foundation for the Show Me, Help Me, Let Me planning method. When teachers join these benchmarks with the eight concepts mentioned in the second paragraph (Literary Period Characteristics, Elements of Literature, Vocabulary/Literature terms, Literature Genre, Thinking, Writing/Grammar and Comprehension skills) they will create powerful plans that will spark understanding and a love for learning.

Ah if only teachers had it so easy.

Left to their own knowledgeable and professional devices, teachers will help their students build strong house of comprehension. Instead, administrators become the wolves peering in classroom doors with their curriculum demands phrased as to do suggestions.

Just yesterday, I visited the high school where I had taught for nineteen years to meet with the principal about my book. After a fruitful session, I moseyed on up to the English Department wing. As I climbed the stairs in the main intersection that led to Room 216, my home away from home for almost two decades, I noticed the flyers announcing upcoming events taped to the walls and felt as if I had never left, though it had been almost two years since I had ambled down these halls.  Very surreal, but I segue…

A few effusive hellos with colleagues, and a number of clicks on Amazon to buy my book after skimming it and remarking, “I must have this now,” were followed by their grumblings regarding administrative interference as to what, when and how they taught core material as well as personal choice literature. We laughed about how they all were going to become like Ditto, the instructor in the movie Teachers who never taught, but hid behind a newspaper while his students completed activity sheets. And administrators wonder why Johnny falls asleep during class.

An hour later, after settling in at my desk, I read a post by a teacher who was in the all-to-familiar, “I give up,” mode after an administrative edict. This overseer gave her a Walt Whitman poem, On the Beach at Night, a Common Core selection for ninth-tenth graders to use as a pre-test review resource. The post writer teaches low-level reading third graders.

Am I missing something here? What happened to the school of philosophy that strove to teach children to love learning, to find joy in expanding their minds, and to desire those “Aha” classroom moments?  Considering these two examples, are administrators’ goals to make the kids feel, “I can’t” instead of, “I can,” and to kill all enthusiasm for learning?

Why don’t they trust the education, skills and professionalism of the staff that they hired? Why don’t they realize that preparing children for the world after high school graduation is more crucial than grooming them to pass a spring time state test? Why don’t they prize learning over data that has no bearing on children’s education?

When students can reach into their brains and pull out the necessary higher level thinking skills they need to answer a question, they will pass the test. When teachers are allowed to prepare comprehensive lessons that incorporate various learning strands, instead of worrying about a slap on the hand if one of their charges doesn’t meet the mark, their students will pass the test.  When administrators can trust their teachers’ professionalism, knowledge and abilities instead of micromanaging their every move and just let them teach instead of focusing on their school’s AYP, the students will pass the test.

Life isn’t a series of multiple choice tests or writing to a prompt. In real life, people have to think, to analyze, and to make viable choices-for themselves, for their families and careers and for all those their lives and decisions touch. So do students.

The ability to think is a big part of the test success equation. Young people won’t be able to do this if all they have been taught is to pass a test. In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s unseen mentor told him, “Build it and they will come.” This can be paraphrased for today’s public schools, “Let teachers teach and the students will learn, and most importantly, will be able to think.”

Just for this blog, I am including this Mob Mentality Freebie that is a part of my complete The Crucible Unit Plan. This activity can be used with any novel that includes mob action or a mob mentality scenario. You can purchase the unit plan from my TpT store. For a brief synopsis, read about it on my Literature: Novel Ideas Page (Left sidebar) or click on the red book (Literature: Novel Ideas) on the right sidebar. It's Number 9 on the list and has a link to my store.
Meanwhile, here is the Mob Mentality activity:

 Happy Teaching,