12/12 – a Lucky Day! And only 13 Days Until Christmas! The excitement is surely palpable. I finished Christmas shopping and wrapping last weekend (please refrain from hurling things at me), because I am just that Type A person. I don’t like surprises or putting things off until the last minute – this means I can enjoy myself and worry less (a good goal all around).
We had a really productive, great week and I have many exciting highlights to share!
1. Newsela – I’ve been using Newsela with my intervention groups (2 small groups of 4 students each) for the past month. We have seen steady progress. I can’t say enough great things about this website! They translate high-interest current events topics into leveled articles with Common Core aligned quizzes. I select an article, choose a Lexile level, and we read and discuss the article together as a group. I give my students highlighting or annotating tasks as we engage in text-based discussion. Then, they take the quiz on their own. They are building skills and confidence – love it!
2. Manipulatives for Adolescents – When I asked my students to bring scissors and glue to class on Tuesday, their quizzical expressions slowly turned into a smile. They hadn’t been asked to cut or glue for many, many years. In Social Studies class on Tuesday, however, I had them cut apart and sort facts into the correct pre-Civil War Compromise we had learned about that week. They practiced several times, then glued down the correct answers. Not only was this engaging, but it was also a great review activity that tapped into several different learning styles. (You can purchase this activity as part of a mini-unit here).
3. Personal Narrative Revision – In Language Arts class this week, we are working on revising our Personal Narratives (which I have called “Small Moment Assignment”). To practice revision, I gave my students a model paper that needed a lot of elbow grease. I split up the model into 5 color-coded sections, and I assigned each section to a small group. The group was tasked with revising their section based on everything we have learned in class about what makes a great personal narrative (sensory language, metaphors, descriptive words and details, specific adjectives, suspense, foreshadowing, higher level vocabulary, adding a hook, sentence variety, etc.).
The left picture is the original, and the right picture is their revised version (you can click to enlarge and read). It is SOoooOOoo much better now! I was very proud of the work they were able to do. Each small group read their part and presented to the class the techniques they used/added. Then, students had a model/plan for how to attack revision successfully, and they went off to revise their own papers with a partner. I would do this again in a heartbeat!
4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – In Social Studies class, I often try to work in Art History and art criticism techniques. We ‘read’ images and look for deeper meaning within the context of history. This week, we viewed this illustration from Uncle Tom’s Cabin as part of our unit on The Civil War. I had my students first identify what they see (just take inventory of what is here), then begin to comment on what the illustration might be trying to communicate about the different characters. The slave is depicted as old, feeble, weak, and on all fours like an animal. The slaveholder is standing, powerful, wealthy, ‘looking down on’ the slave, and about to kick the slave. We then discussed the impact of this image on various groups within society at that time – how the image would be viewed and interpreted. I think it is very important to discuss images with students to practice the power of inference.
5. Snuggle Time – Only 6.5 more work days, and this will become my life for a whole 12 day Winter Break! Yes, to them I am nothing but a treat-dispensing, door-opening, warm human dog pillow, but it’s the best job and someone’s gotta do it!
Only 13 days until Christmas, and the countdown continues….!
How was your week?
An activity that I always use to start the year is ‘Why we Read/Write.’ I like students to really think about the purpose of Language Arts class and the many benefits of learning to read and write effectively.
I started by reading them a children’s book – this year it was Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin. I ask the students to relax, enjoy, and transport themselves back in time to when they were wee and loved to snuggle and read books with their parents.
You’d be surprised – 13-year-olds love to have children’s books read to them. Afterward, I asked what they enjoyed about the book. They loved that it was humorous, colorful, and simple; it brought back many nostalgic memories. Next, I asked them, “When reading this book, what might a small child accidentally learn about?” They were surprised at their own long list: farm animals and the foods they provide us, farm life, vocabulary, letter writing, and negotiating skills. Wow – reading really has many benefits, huh?
Then I passed out a stack of post-its at each table and asked the table groups to write down as many reasons as they could generate for why people read. What they came up with was creative and insightful!
Some of my favorite post-its read:
“To escape your reality”
Then I shared Kelly Gallagher’s 10 Reading Reasons and asked the students to compare their list with his. For the most part, they got all of the reasons besides ‘Reading Helps us To Fight Oppression’ and ‘Reading is Financially Rewarding.’ I challenge the students to name a single job where reading is not required. Bottom line: It can’t be done!
After Reading Reasons, I ask the students to think about why we write. I again distribute post-its, and we repeat the activity on the board. Here are there amazing answers:
My favorites are:
“To let out your feelings”
“To understand things better”
“To capture memories”
Our discussion afterward focused on using writing to sort out our feelings and to communicate and be heard by others. The students also seemed to get the connection between reading and writing, and that they are mutually beneficial.
I was so proud of the students for being positive and enthusiastic throughout this whole activity. I didn’t hear one single student gripe, “I haaaaate reading. Who cares?” Etc. I am so glad we set a positive tone right at the beginning, and I look forward to referencing this great list that we made during the year as we expand our knowledge and skills.
Have you heard of Blackout Poetry? This is a really simple, effective, fun way to introduce poetry. EVERYone can do this. As I tell my students, you don’t have to create something from scratch – the something is already there. It’s up to you to liberate the poetry from page – find the secret message and reveal it.
Laura Randazzo, one of my favorite sellers on TpT, created a FREE Blackout Poetry product that my students have classroom tested and approved. We began by watching the free Prezi that she created. If you aren’t familiar with Prezi (nickname for Presentation), it’s basically like an online Powerpoint, but way more fun. You don’t need any special equipment – just Internet access. This Prezi walks you through the process of creating Blackout Poetry.
Teacher Tip: I warned them the day before our lesson to bring dark markers to class (and I rustled up as many as I could find in my teacher stash as well) as well as scissors (in case they wanted to trim their poem).
To prepare for this lesson, I chose several dozen of my favorite classroom novels. I hauled my pile to the copy room, opened each book up to a random page, and copied it. That way, we aren’t destroying any books. Since my students sit in groups in my classroom, I placed a pile of copied pages at each table group and asked them to pick a page that ‘spoke to them.’ Warning: advise your students NOT to read the page. This will put an unshakable idea into their head about what the page should be about. BIG mistake! It’s best to just skim the words, like scanning the food in your refrigerator, for a basic idea of what you want. There was a lot of discussion and paper-passing, but my students settled on their final decisions within a few minutes.
After we watched the Prezi, I asked my students to start with a pencil and look for a special word (anchor word) from which they could build a message. “But Mrs. D., what should the message be about?” Great question. I asked them to think about themes we have learned through our novels and short stories throughout the year. Think about universal messages about life, truths, or observations about humanity. That seemed to be a great place to start for the vast majority of my students. The more advanced poets didn’t need as much direction and just dug right in.
Once they had a potential poem sketched out in pencil, I directed them to try out their poem on a classmate. Ask for a reaction and feedback. Make any necessary revisions, then finally go for the marker and start blacking out what isn’t needed.
As an extension for some students, I invited them to insert a blackout image that complimented the poem. As you can see in the sample images below, the students rose to the challenge!
The beautiful results were then displayed for the remainder of the poetry unit 🙂