Monday, May 2, 2016

Top Wishlist Items and Teacher Appreciation Sale

These are my top three wish listed items from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you have one of these on your list, or any of my other products, Tuesday and Wednesday are the time to buy! My whole store is 20% off, including bundles, and Teachers Pay Teachers will take off another 10% with the code CELEBRATE. Get a few great products in your cache for the end of the year, or get ready for next year at big savings!

Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Teaching Active and Passive Voice

Teaching active and passive voice is a bit of a challenge. Most older students have heard of passive voice, and know they shouldn't use it, but have difficulty identifying it. It gets even more challenging to teach when I explain that it's not technically grammatically incorrect. Writing in active voice is a best practice; in fact, there are times when passive voice might be necessary or preferred. (Can you just see the students checking out?) So why, then, teach active and passive voice at all?

The short answer is that active voice is more direct and clear.

Active: Andrew ate the burrito.

Passive: The burrito was eaten by Andrew.

Passive: The burrito was eaten.

In the active example, the sentence is straightforward. Subject (agent of action), verb, object.

In the first passive example, the agent of the action (Andrew) and the object (the burrito) are flip-flopped. It also contains more words with the addition of "was" and "by."

In the second passive example, we don't even know who ate the burrito!

This is a simplistic example, but you can see how clarity can suffer, especially in a complex sentence when the agent of the action is missing. Students who understand the difference between active and passive voice are more efficient, effective writers. I like to use a cooperative game to engage students. You can find the one I use here.

Politicians love passive voice: "Mistakes were made."  How's that for avoiding responsibility?

Vote "No" for passive voice!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Preparing to Substitute

Whenever I substitute for a class, I come with a prepared bag of tricks, even if the teacher has left a detailed plan. You never know when something can go awry (see last week's post here about just such an incident), and you'll be left with minutes or hours of extra time.

It's not enough to have just one emergency lesson plan. The personality of the class and the time you may have to fill can vary greatly. That sure-fire game you always use might stir up an already out-of-control class. A quiet, introverted class may need something a little more engaging than those vocabulary worksheets. A variety of activities that take varying lengths of time is just the ticket to be sure you can adjust to any situation.

I like to bring photocopied reading passages for English classes, along with a variety of activities to go along with it so I can fill any amount of time. Along with the reading passage, I bring quick and easy vocabulary work, reading comprehension questions, short answers, and a writing prompt. I can mix and match according to the time available.

I also bring a grammar game (see my post here for my tried-and-true activity), and a quiz and worksheets to go along with it.

I never plan an activity that requires media equipment. I've had too many times where something wasn't working right. Stalling to try and fix equipment is the perfect opportunity for students to get bored and restless.

I'm not above a few prizes and bribes in my bag as well. Sometimes a piece of candy for students who are on task and working quietly can be a great motivator. Competing for a Sharpie or highlighter can keep students engaged in a game.

Writing a list of assignments on the board, such as short writing prompts or vocabulary work can also keep early finishers from becoming restless.

Whatever happens, smile and have confidence, knowing you are well prepared.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Subbing - The First Ten Minutes

I substituted for a class last week, and the situation was the stuff of nightmares. The regular teacher had planned for them to watch a movie that would take up the whole class period. I came prepared with grading to do from my own class, since I was basically not much more than a token supervisor. This was going to be easy. And then the video equipment didn't work. Two hours yawned before me, and the students stared, wondering what I was going to do, and hoping they would be able to run amok.

The most important thing to do in this situation is to not hesitate. I've found when I immediately take command, act confident, and do not let on that there is no plan, potential chaos is averted. Of course, pre-planning and material preparation is vital. I would never walk into a subbing situation without a plan in case everything falls apart. (See next week's blog for ideas on preparation).

With the knowledge that I have a plan ready to go, I can focus on the first impression I am making rather than scrambling for something to do. I do not make a big deal out of what they were supposed to do, or what has gone wrong, but act like plan B is all part of the plan.

The first thing I do in these situations (and unfortunately, there have been plenty) is take roll, calling out names and making eye contact and smiling at each person. It's important that students don't feel invisible or unaccountable in a sub situation. This also helps begin the class with a friendly, but structured and down-to-business atmosphere. I also jot down a seating chart if one is not available so I can refer back to their names during the class.

If I know they are working on a big project, I ask directed questions about what it is and what problems or questions they might have. Sometimes I can pick a spur-of-the-moment lesson that is applicable to what they are doing. I have learned, however, to never let them complain about an assignment or the teacher, because that's a rabbit hole you should never go down.

There is a delicate balance between keeping control and being so strict that the students want to act out. When I started teaching and was nervous about walking this line, I erred on the side of too nice and lenient (because if they like you, they won't behavior badly, right? Wrong!). Now I make an effort to be friendly, but stricter than I am with my own students to stay on task so things don't get off track. A quick transition into an engaging, busy activity is the best strategy.

Subbing, especially when plans derail, is never easy, but by coming prepared, and leaping into confident action in the first ten minutes can make all the difference.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Revising Paragraphs in Essays - Lesson Plan

My students generally write paragraphs that contain topic sentences and evidence to support their points. What they are missing sometimes is their analysis, commentary, or support for the evidence. The more common problem, though, is redundant and "fluff" sentences because the are trying to fill space, or make a point via unnecessary repetition. Of course this adds no substance, and makes the paragraph laborious to read.

The method contained in this lesson plan will have students analyze each sentence in their paragraphs to make sure they have purpose. They can easily recognize the fluff and redundancies. It will also help them understand when they are missing important elements. Click on the photo above to get to the product.

Here's to better paragraphs!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thesis Statement Activity

A solid thesis statement is critical to the success of any essay, but I often find my students disengaged while I try and teach them the fundamentals. Out of desperation, I tried this activity, and it was a resounding success. I saw improvement immediately on the practice thesis statements used for the activity. That improvement then translated into their next essays. Yes, there was a bribe involved, but whatever works, right?

Here's the activity, which should be used directly after instruction on how to write a thesis statement:

1. Give the class an interesting reading or show a short video about a topic that is ripe for varied opinions. I like to show this seven-minute clip about AutoTune from Nova:

2. Facilitate a short class discussion on the topic to get them thinking about the pros and cons. For the AutoTune example, we talk about whether an artist who uses AutoTune in a live concert or on a recording is deceiving the audience. We talk about the common use, the ethics, and whether the audience should be aware of its use.

3. Ask them to write a thesis statement about the topic (as if they were going to use it for an essay). Tell them not to write their names on the paper.

4. Collect all the papers, shuffle them, and redistribute. Ask students to carefully read the thesis on the paper they have.

5. Now ask all the students to stand up.

6. One by one, go through the points of a good thesis statement. For example, say, "Does it contain a clear opinion?" Have the students consider the thesis and sit down if it does not meet the criteria.

7. When you have only a few students left standing (or have gone through all the criteria), have the class vote on the best thesis still remaining.

8. The writer of the winning thesis gets a prize! (I like to give out colorful Sharpie pens.)

I've done this for several quarters now, and the students always show improvement, I think because they are so engaged in the process, whether in writing their own thesis or evaluating others' thesis statement.

If you need a lesson for writing a thesis statements, here's the one I use. It's a Power Point presentation, along with handouts and worksheets.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Encouraging Participation in the Classroom

 “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” - Chinese Proverb

Improving class participation can be a struggle. I've noticed over the years that every class has a different personality as a whole. This quarter, I've got the zombies. They look like live students, but they stare straight ahead and don't make a peep when I ask a question. Even in group work, they are reserved with each other and prefer individual work. 

However, one of the largest factors affecting class participation is the instructor, even with the zombies. Here is a list of some tips that will encourage more involvement from students in class: 

 Learn the names of your students so they feel recognized and are less likely to fall through the cracks the first or second day of class. Ask questions directed at students by name. Not only will they feel recognized, but the fear factor of getting caught unaware my encourage them to participate sooner, when they know an answer, before you call on them.  

Respond to student answers with respect, positivity, and encouragement through your body language as well as your words. If the students hasn't hit on the point I think is the best answer, I often say something like "In addition to Ashley's answer, consider....." or "Another point you want to think about is...." That way, you are not negating the student's answer, but still making your point. 

      Allow various forms of participation from students. Some may prefer writing questions and responses on notecards before sharing a response. Others would participate more in small group or paired discussions rather than with the whole class.

          Set the chairs in a semicircle or around a large table to encourage discussion.

           From day one, let students know that participation is expected and required (possibly for a grade). Structure your lessons around discussions.

      Lastly, don't be afraid of the awkward silence. With my quiet classes, I used to fill in the gaps by answering the questions rather than lingering in the awkwardness. Now, I just wait. Sometimes I will rephrase the question or call on someone by name, but usually, someone speaks up. Don't let the students get used to you always saving the moment, or they won't feel as motivated to participate.