Monday, December 7, 2015

Holiday Sentence Game

What can you do when it's just before the holidays, your students can't concentrate, and you've depleted your bag of tricks? This hilarious sentence game is productive, easy, and will engage even the most squirrelly students. All you need is paper, pens, and a pair of scissors.

The instructions and pre-printed forms are available for free in my store. Click here to download. Or, follow these instructions:

1. Cut two paper strips for each student. Ask students to label one strip "If" and one strip "then."

2. Ask the students to write the first part of a sentence on the “If” paper, such as: “If I go ice skating over break,” and finish the sentence on the “then” paper, “then I will want to bring my mittens.” You can direct them to a topic, such as the holidays, or leave it open-ended.
3. When everyone has written a sentence, collect the “If” papers in one basket, and all the “then” papers in another basket.

4. Mix up the papers in each basket and have each student draw a piece of paper from the “If” basket and the “then” basket.

5. Go around the room and have each student read his or her new sentence out loud. 

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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Back to School Icebreaker for Middle and High School

It's that time of year again to begin planning for back to school. Icebreakers for the first day are hard to find for middle and high schoolers, so I always come back to the tried-and-true Bingo game.

The idea of an ice breaker is to get students to interact, start conversations, and find things they have in common with each other. This activity does that better than any other that I've tried.

You will need eight or nine different Bingo cards, the squares filled in with different things your students may have done or hobbies they have, favorites, characteristics, or anything else unique that you think is interesting. I like to use things they might have done over the summer: jobs, vacations, etc. There are many blank Bingo card templates you can download for free. Just do a search for "Bingo template" and you'll find some. Fill in the squares on the first card, then keep mixing them up and adding and subtracting items for the remaining seven or eight cards. I'll be honest, it's a lot of work, but you can re-use them every year.

To play, mix up the cards and pass out one to each student. On "go," they have to find someone who matches the item in the square, and write his or her name on the card.

Students can only use the same person for two squares, then they have to move on to someone else. When someone gets a Bingo (diagonal, horizontal, or vertical row all marked off) they shout out "Bingo!" In a regular game, that would end it, but I like to give out treats for five or six Bingos to encourage the conversations to go on.

If you don't want to make your own cards, I have some in my store that have been successful with multiple classes. You can find them here

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