Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sojourner Truth Speech Writing Activity

Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech is short and powerful. I assign this reading during our argumentative essay writing unit and then we analyze it for logic and persuasive techniques.

I recently started assigning a writing activity to go along with it, and it was successful. I got some of the best writing out of my students all quarter because they wrote passionately.  Here's the prompt:

Write a short, logical, persuasive speech defending yourself against something you have been denied or a stereotype or misconception about you.

Some examples of something students have been denied are attending an event or place because of age, a request to a parent (allowance, pet, expensive clothes...), membership in a club, a job they applied for, or a class change. Examples of stereotypes of misconceptions are that video game players are lazy, people who get good grades are nerds, athletes are not smart, or girls are too dramatic.

My students had no problem coming up with something. In fact, many immediately started writing the second I finished writing the prompt. The examples I gave were light-hearted and some were silly, but some students wrote about very serious racial stereotypes and misconceptions, and they said it felt good to be able to communicate what they felt.

 Here's a link to "Ain't I a Woman?" if you want to give this a try:


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Using APA format in the Secondary Classroom

The vast majority of English teachers in middle and high school teach MLA formatting for essays with good reason, as it is what students will most likely be required to use in their first year of college. It is the format used for English and the Humanities, after all. 

But after having taught entry-level writing at several different colleges, I found students won't always use MLA. At one college, all freshman were required to use APA, as the school's majors were primarily in the social sciences. APA formatting is the preferred format for the social sciences, and for many students with majors and careers in these fields, MLA will be nothing but a distant memory from high school.

Teaching APA on the secondary level is useful for several reasons. The most important, perhaps, is that when taught in addition to MLA, it will prepare students for college writing. It is good for students to understand that there are different styles for different types of writing. It will increase their flexibility in the different rhetorical strategies. 

Unlike MLA formatting, APA style includes headings and sections, which can lead to more thoughtful and intuitive organization. Assigning one of the two most common APA-style papers, literature review or experimental report, will give students excellent experience in these rhetorical modes. 

APA also has many writing style rules, which can seem overwhelming on the secondary level when we are trying to teach the basics of good writing, but I've found most of these style rules are already the things we are encouraging our students to do, such as writing in active voice instead of passive voice. When I teach APA to beginning composition students, we focus on the formatting and save the style rules for more advanced classes. 

There are plenty of APA guidelines online. My favorite is the Online Writing Lab at Purdue, but if you would like some resources on the basics meant for secondary students, I've got some for your here:


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Success Writing Prompts - Four Rhetorical Strategies

There are a lot of good writing prompts out there that ask for an opinion, but there are few that ask for rhetorical strategies beyond that. I created this product to help students practice writing with different methods - expository, narrative, persuasive, and research-based. Each prompt has a quote from a famous person on an aspect of success, and then a writing prompt that promotes critical thinking. Students write in the mode specified at the top of the page. There are ten for each strategy.

I also created this product in three versions for maximum flexibility: print, digital (for Google Drive and MS One Drive), and a Power Point presentation. Whether you want to hand out copies for students to write on, have students write on the computer, or project a slide and have students use their own paper, you're covered. Click on the picture above or here to get to the product preview.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Extreme Sports Argumentative Writing Prompt

One of my favorite activities in class to practice a particular writing skill is to show a short video about a high-interest topic and then give the class a writing prompt after a class discussion. By far, the most engaging topic for this method is extreme sports. The videos are gripping, and everyone pays attention. 

Here are two videos on YouTube about the topic that I like to show together. The first one is some amazing footage of people doing some extreme sports. The second explores the psychology behind it. 



In the class discussion, we talk about why people engage in these sports, but also the risk, the cost of rescue operations, and the legality of some of the stunts. This discussion always leads to arguments (in a good way!) and therefore, the prompts are easy:  Should people be able to engage in high-risk sports in national parks? Should they be required to pay for search and rescue if they get in trouble? Should the deadliest sports be illegal or regulated? Why would someone want to engage in such a dangerous activity? Is the freedom to do what you want worth the risk to rescue personnel? 

I think you'll find a lively discussion on this topic and some excellent written responses.

If you would like to add some reading to supplement the topic, click on the photos below for informational articles on extreme sports. The reading level is grades 5 - 8, but because of the subject matter, they are appropriate for high school students as well. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The 5 Essays You Must Master To Be College Ready

My new book is finally available! After many years of teaching college students who are not quite ready for the demands of college-level writing, I identified the information and practice that they needed in five different rhetorical strategies to be ready. This book incorporates my most successful classroom curriculum, modified for secondary students who are homeschooled or working with a tutor or parent to enhance their skills. 

This is a full program, with exercises, step-by-step processes for each essay type, samples, and clear essay assignments for each essay type. Writing teachers will also find valuable information and projects for their classes. I'll be using it as a textbook for my future classes. 

This baby has been years in the making, and I'm proud it's finally here! Click here to purchase. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Glass Castle Movie and Book Comparison

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a favorite of my students, so I was excited about the movie that was released in August. I'm hoping it will bring more attention to this book that has so fully engaged my students. You can read about my experience with it in the classroom in my blog post here.

Usually, I'm disappointed with the movie version of any book, and I was worried when I went to see it, because The Glass Castle is dear to my heart. In fact, I was prepared to be disappointed, and even angry if they messed with it too much.

They did mess with it, but I was pleasantly surprised. Better yet, I immediately saw how this movie would work perfectly with the book for a compare/contrast assignment.

Some of the changes they made from the book to the movie are evident right away. The main change is that the book opens with Jeannette as an adult, and then tells a linear story from when she was three years old to her adulthood. The movie alternates between her adult self coming to grips with her childhood, shown through a series of flashbacks. It works. There is certainly a different dynamic, but I found it interesting and the integrity of the story held. My first thought after the movie was how this structural differences would be excellent fodder for a comparison discussion with the book. Why did the director make this choice? How did it change the perception of the viewer/reader? Which version was more effective?

The other changes seemed like necessities of the format, such as skipping over locations and storylines to fit the time constraints. The movie also makes a main character out of Jeannette's fiancé, who is a minor player in the book. These are also good discussion points about how these choices affected the story.

The Glass Castle is not an easy story. It dredges up powerful emotions in many, and has mature themes and storylines, but it is not easily forgotten. Jeannette's ability to forgive and to craft a bright future for herself are uplifting and inspiring in the end, and the movie brings this into clear focus once again.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Discouraging Plagiarism

The bane of my existence in teaching is plagiarism. I do everything I can to explain to students why they should not plagiarize, and I spend a significant amount of time on making sure they know what it is. I even have them take a quiz on it before their first big paper. Despite all that, there are always the cheaters.

The luxury of being a writing teacher, however, is that I can usually discourage most of the cheating by requiring a process that would make it difficult to turn in a copied paper. Here is the process that I use (which is also just a good process for writing in general):

1.  I ask a specific question, perhaps comparing and contrasting two different articles, or limiting their choice of topic. This makes it harder to find something to copy that fits the prompt. I never assign an open-ended paper.

2. I require students to turn in sources ahead of time for approval. They are free to change their minds about the sources, but they must email me links to their new sources any time before the paper is due. Sometimes, if the topic is narrow enough, I supply one of the sources as a starting point and require that they include it.

3. I assign in-class, graded assignments for the paper. Perhaps students will write two or three introductions and then do group work to determine the best introduction for their papers. Maybe I will have them free write a body paragraph, or turn in a finished paragraph for feedback.

4. I always require a rough draft and rewrites. If they do not turn one in by the deadline, they still have to include one with their final paper, or they don't get any credit.

None of these alone will deter all plagiarism, but taken together, it would be more work to plagiarize the whole process than just writing a new paper.

Most important, however, is early intervention for someone who seems overwhelmed. If a student has been absent a lot and not turning in preliminary assignments or in-class work, I take them aside and ask how I can help, and gently work into the conversation that they must be careful not to panic and do something that they would regret later. In my experience, the students who plagiarize are those who have procrastinated or tried to do a last-minute paper and gave into the temptation to try the easy way out. I tell my classes frequently that anything they can accomplish is far better than anything they can copy.

Here are some resources to help your students understand plagiarism.  The first is a free checklist you can use in your classroom and the second is a complete teaching plan with explanations, examples, exercises and a quiz.