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.