Thursday, May 7, 2015

End-of-Year Candy Award Certificates

Some things stick around because they are winning ideas. I remember my mother making candy posters when I was a kid where she would replace words with candy bars for her Sunday School students. I thought it was the coolest thing then, and I still think so now. There are lots of candy award certificates and ideas for elementary school, which have the same idea as my mom's candy posters, but not so many for the middle and high school set, so I made some without babyish clip art and with more mature wording. The big kids like to be recognized and rewarded as much as little ones. My students love these.

 Candy award certificates are also a relatively inexpensive and easy end-of-the-year treat for you to provide for your class, especially if you go with Fun Size versions. Here are some of the ones that I use, and I'm sure you can think of many more creative awards to give. If you want to use this idea and save yourself some time, I've got this product in my store. It has 25 different certificates in 8 1/2 x 11 and quarter page size, and both versions in black and white. There is a print-and-go file and also an editable file if you want to change something or add your own awards. I promise the kiddos will love this!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

End of Year Reflection Activity

clip art by Image Boutique  

I have been assigning this reflection activity for five years now, and have found it to be a productive way to end the school year or quarter for the students and myself.

1. Review the major assignments from the class and their purpose. I use the four major essay assignments, the weekly in-class response papers, exercises on writing introductions and conclusions, and incorporating research. I project a list on the screen, but you could also make a handout. (At the beginning of the class, I encourage students to save all their assignments so they can review them for this assignment. This step is helpful, but not necessary.)

2. Instruct students to choose the three assignments that they learned the most from. These are not necessarily the assignments that earned the best grades.

3. Have them then write a letter that explains why they chose the assignments and what they learned from them. Also have them write about their overall progress in the class, and any constructive criticism for improving the class.

4. As a class, make a tally of the assignments the students chose, then discuss the reasons together. Also discuss the assignments they didn't choose, and why.

This activity is a great way for students to recall the amount of work they accomplished and see their progress. The best part of this assignment, though, is the feedback that I get. I replace assignments that no one chose as learning experiences, and take to heart all their comments and suggestions.

This is the one stack of papers I look forward to reading all year. Most of the time, the students are honest and give a lot of positive feedback, and I have been enlightened by some of the thoughtful suggestions for improvement, which I haven't hesitated to incorporate. Sometimes our students are our best teachers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Better Way to Correct Essays

I offer significant points for turning in rough drafts because revision is the most important part of the writing process. I have had much success in getting the students to do this part of the assignment, but one issue lies in how effective my feedback is regarding punctuation and grammar errors, and whether students can, or are motivated to, successfully translate my comments into improved writing and learning.

What not to do: proofread and edit. Not only is this time consuming, it is ineffective. Case in point: On one student's essay, I did comprehensive line editing, pointing out every grammar and punctuation error and providing the correction. Not only was the paper almost unreadable when I was finished, cluttered with the highlights and dialogue boxes, but it had no effect on learning. The paper had the simple errors corrected on the final draft which seemed like a success at first. Then I got to the end of the essay, where the writer had made a great point in the last sentence. I responded, "Indeed!"  Guess what the new last sentence of revised essay was? Indeed.

Insert wah-wah-wah fail music here. Transcribing is not learning. It is difficult for me to turn off my compulsion to correct all errors, but what I do now is use a code for each type of error, say a comma splice, and I do not correct it. The student matches the error code to a provided key, and logs a revision. I might give an example of a correction, but more often, I list the page number in their reference books that explains the concept if I think the student might not know how to correct the error.

They don't always get the corrections right, but they learn far more than mindlessly transcribing my corrections. First, they have to look up what the errors are, and figure out how to correct it on their own. They earn points for correctly revising one example of each type of error they make. Although I see fewer perfectly corrected papers, I see fewer recurrences of problem areas in subsequent drafts, and that's really what it's all about.

To see examples of my codes and logs, or if you want to buy mine instead of making your own, click here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Point of View in Academic Writing - the Ubiquitous "You"

When reviewing student drafts of academic essays, I find myself constantly marking the use of second person. With no direction, I find most students use second person. With direction, I find most students still slip into second person.

There are many reasons why second person is the go-to point of view for first drafts. It is the most informal and conversational. Students tend to write like they talk, so second person is natural. They also read a lot of second person online; advice articles, how-to, and informal blogs tend to use second person.

Second person, however, is the point of view that should be almost never used in academic writing. Besides the informality, which is inappropriate in a research paper and other academic essays, the main reason second person is not preferable is because it excludes or alienates part of the audience.

I use a few humorous examples to show this, and that is when it usually clicks with students. For example, I first ask the students, "Who is the audience for this paper?" The typical answer is me, the teacher, but we also discuss that it is anyone who is interested in the topic. Then I read the following passage from a student paper about preventing teen pregnancy:

"You should discuss your sexual activity with your parents or another adult because studies show that if you do this, your chances of pregnancy go down significantly."

I ask the students if I should discuss my sexual activity with my parents or another adult. I also ask a male student if this advice will help reduce his chance of pregnancy. Of course they immediately understand my point, and we don't need to elaborate on how second person excludes part of your audience.

We also review how the tone of this passage is more like a self-help article than academic research. Then I show a simple rewrite:

"Teen girls who discuss their sexual activity with their parents or another adult have a significantly reduced rate of pregnancy" (Smith 21).

There will always be the ubiquitous "you" in student papers, but a simple example requiring students to think about their audience will help them revise correctly.

If you are looking for resources to teach point of view, here is the Power Point and rewriting exercises I use with my classes:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Idiom Posters and Matching Game

According to the common core standards, students learn idioms in second through fifth grade. I created these two products with those grades in mind, but I used more mature artwork and added some more sophisticated idioms into the mix so that teachers can use them for older, or even adult, ESL students. Idioms are hard to master for ESL students because they don't make literal sense, and are often cultural references. These posters and matching cards will hopefully help a broad range of students, and make learning fun.

Artwork by Image Boutique

Friday, December 5, 2014

Winter Holiday Freebies and Tips
Just posted! The 2014 Winter Holiday Tips and Freebies ebook. Specifically for Language Arts and Humanities, grades 6-12, you'll find tons of great free curriculum for your classrooms and tips to survive the days before the holidays. My page is included, and I have a link to a fun game you might want to keep in your playbook for a classroom full of squiggly students. Click here to download.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tips for Teaching Grammar When You're not Supposed to be Teaching Grammar

The composition class I have been teaching for years is supposed to be all about research, critical thinking, and honing argumentative writing techniques. The students, allegedly, have already mastered basic grammar and writing skills. After the diagnostic essays on the first day, however, the same story emerges: the grammar mastery is shaky at best, and non-existent at worst. Over time, the topics that need the most review have held steady, and my teaching has evolved to meet this need.

Most of my students have gaps in their early education, or are returning to school after many years, so I am not so concerned that every student knows what a dangling whoseewhatsit is, but they need to review or be taught some basics in order to begin to present a coherent argument. The rest of it can be taken care of through critiques on their rough drafts.  Through trial and error, and ultimately modest success, here are my best tips for teaching grammar when the class is supposed to be at the next level:

1. Couch everything as a "review" since you will have students for whom it is, indeed, review.

2. Even though it's a "review," start with the basic rules and don't assume previous knowledge.

3. Keep the terminology as basic as possible.

4. Start with a review of the parts of speech. I use a cooperative game for this one, and call it an "English Class Ice-Breaker," rather than a formal lesson.

5. Teach sentence fragments and clauses first, then move on to run-on sentences. These two items are the crux of most of the issues, and writing improves significantly with these two errors corrected.

6. Keep the lessons short and to the point. I use a short power point, handouts with the explanations they can study at home, and self-check practice quizzes.

7. Check for understanding with a self-check quiz. Offer to meet with the students who need more help or provide more resources. I often send students to interactive websites for practice.  My current favorite is

8. Have students keep an "error journal" where they keep track of where they are making mistakes on their rough drafts. This will help them be self-aware and hopefully, self-correcting.

9. Do short writing exercises to practice the skills your class is really about, but each time, give special emphasis to one point of grammar and grade accordingly.

I would love some feedback on how you teach grammar in the classroom under similar circumstances.

If you'd like to use my resources, which include power points, worksheets, handouts, games, quizzes, and two comprehensive assessments, I've put them altogether in a money-saving bundle. These are what I use each quarter in my class. I hope you find them useful.