Monday, October 19, 2015

Halloween ELA Activities for Middle School and High School

 Halloween is the perfect time to bring some seasonal materials into your lesson plan. Here are some great ideas I found that you might be interested in:

Bright Hub Education has a list of activities that you can use with Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart." They are suitable for many grade levels. Here is the link: Language Arts Halloween Activities with "The Tell Tale Heart."

Mrs. Waters' English has a list of scary stories along with activities for middle school, but most are appropriate for high school and college, as well. Here is the link: 21 Scary Halloween Short Stories for Middle School.

The New York Times Learning Network has an extensive list of Halloween-themed ELA activities including opinion writing prompts and poetry. Here is the link: The Learning Network: Halloween

I have four reading packets in my store suitable for grades 5 - 8 with Fall and Halloween themes. Each contain close reading passages, with reading comprehension questions, vocabulary work and fun writing prompts. The reading level is grades six and seven. They are in the Lexile stretch band for fifth grade, and the basic level for eighth grade.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summary and Response Writing
Before we begin a research paper in my composition classes, we start with a summary/response essay. I find that if students master the skills of the summary/response essay, they will be well prepared to take on the larger project because it breaks down the process of a research paper into manageable steps.

First, it requires a close reading of a qualified academic source. These types of sources are usually not easy reading, so it will push the students to pay close attention, annotate, make notes, and perhaps cross-check facts, and seek alternative opinions for background. I require an annotation of the chosen article for the first assignment for this essay.

Next comes a summary, which will become the first paragraph of the essay. A good summary follows these guidelines:

1. Gives Context: Name the author and title of the article in the first sentence. In the article xxx, by xxx, the author states......
2. Contains the main ideas only: The thesis and the main points of the article are all that is necessary in a summary. Leave out examples, illustrations, and details.
3. All ideas are attributed to the author: The reader should always be reminded that these are the ideas and thoughts of the author, not the essay writer. Jones believes......  or  According to Jones.....
4. Objective: The essay writer should offer no opinions or analysis in the summary. Statements such as Jones makes a good point when she says... are not objective, because "good point" is subjective.
5. Paraphrase: Use your own words. Direct quotes should be rarely used.

After the summary, the rest of the essay is structured like a traditional essay, with a thesis statement, body paragraphs and a conclusion. The difference is that the whole essay should stay tightly focused as a response to the article. A thesis statement might be structured something like this: Although Jones makes a strong argument about x, she does not consider x.  Or:  I agree with Jones about x, because this is a problem that is often overlooked in the mainstream media. 

I require students to quote or paraphrase from the article frequently in their response to make sure they stay focused. It's easy to stray far from the article, especially if the student has strong feelings or a lot of knowledge about the topic. By requiring this kind of focus, it helps students master the skill of integrating sources.

I also require students to use only the one source for this essay to keep it simple.

After the summary/response essay, students can directly transfer the skills to writing a research paper with multiple sources.

I've had great success with this type of essay in my classroom. Not only do students typically score well on this assignment, it gives them the confidence and skills to move forward.

If you would like a prepared summary and response unit, I have one here that includes samples of an annotation, summary, response and complete essay. It also includes step-by-step instructions for the whole process, along with worksheets, graphic organizers, grading rubrics, and  more.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Descriptive Writing Prompts 2 - FREE

Descriptive writing prompts are a great way to get a writing sample at the beginning of the year. They are also a good warm-up for a narrative essay, which I usually assign as a first essay in a basic composition class. The key is getting the students to write concrete, or sensory, detail instead of abstractions. Download this freebie for a short lesson plan and three of my new descriptive writing prompts appropriate for middle school and above:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More Great Back-to-School Resources for Secondary Teachers

The Musings of a History Gal has put together a great blog post, "Back to School Hack 2," featuring her 10 hand-picked favorite free resources for secondary teachers. She has a great selection, so check it out! Click here. I was honored to have my team-building activity "Spaghetti Towers" chosen!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Free Back-to-School Resources and Tips ELA Ebook

This ebook is jam-packed with tips and free resources from Teachers Pay Teachers teacher-authors. You can download it for free by clicking here.

Here's my page, which is just one of 45. Each page has a tip, a free download, and a featured product. Thanks to Tracee Orman for putting this together!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Class Rules Activity

It's important to go over the class rules on the first day of class, but there's nothing that makes students check out quicker. After several class periods, it just sounds like so much blah, blah, blah.

Here's an activity that involves students in the process. Not only does it require their attention and participation, I find that students understand and follow the rules better since they feel at least partial ownership.

First, lay out the non-negotiable rules. The fewer, the better. Mine are: Be Respectful, Be Prepared, and Understand and Follow Class Policies.

Ask students to write down their expectation for the class, including for academics, the instructor, and classmates. Then put them in groups of 4 -5 to share and consolidate their ideas. Then have the groups share with the whole class. Decide, as a class, what the rules should be (of course you have veto power, but it's surprising how fair and thorough the students usually are).

You can then prepare a printed version of the rules and add other class policies.

Good luck, and happy first day!

If you want more detailed instructions, a poster, graphic organizers, a template for class policies, and a fun quiz regarding the rules, I have a prepared packet for purchase here:

Friday, July 31, 2015

Opinion Reading and Writing - Improving Critical Thinking Skills

In teaching remedial composition to college students, one misconception that I am constantly correcting is that academic research papers should not have an opinion. Au contraire. Any paper worth its salt is presenting and defending an argument which, of course, is an opinion.

At first, I was surprised at this misconception, and chalked it up to simply lack of exposure to this kind of reading. After more experience, however, I found it's more complicated than that, and a large part of it is in the semantics.

First, when students are learning to write in the early years, they are encouraged to preface opinions with "I think," "I feel," and "In my opinion" phrases. This is important in the process when students are learning to distinguish between fact and opinion. As writing becomes more sophisticated in middle and high school, however, these phrases are eliminated, making statements of opinion less obvious.

The second issue is how students define the word "opinion." Often, they think if a statement is labeled an "opinion" it is something that can't be proven or disproven by facts, such as which is the best restaurant in town. More advanced critical thinking, of course, quickly shows that even solid facts and research rarely conclusively prove anything. Many opinions on the same issue can be supported by facts.
The later elementary grades are a good time to explore these critical thinking skills. My favorite way to facilitate this is to have students do a close reading of two short opinion pieces that are research and fact based, one pro and one con. This helps clarify that different authors reach different conclusions about the same issues, even though the authors are privy to the same facts.  I like to have the students answer questions about each article, learn the critical vocabulary, and then bring it all together by deciding which author they agree with. Group work and class discussions further promote the skills.

To take it one step further, it's helpful to introduce a writing project in the form of a short five-paragraph essay. With this early introduction, students are on their way to developing the critical thinking skills that will serve them all the way through high school, college and beyond.

I've put together some packets that go through the process I described above. These are common-core based, with challenging reading for fourth and fifth grade (in the Lexile stretch bands) and at grade level for sixth and seventh grade.