Using Children’s Books as Mentor Texts

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One of the best professional decisions I have made was applying to become a fellow with the National Writing Project. Because of my interaction with colleagues across the spectrum from K-12, my teaching has expanded and I see possibility everywhere. One of my favorite techniques for assessing students both for formative and summative purposes that has come out of these connections has been through the use of children’s books. Here are three of my favorites:KEEP READING

Shaking up Shakespeare

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Portrait of Shakespeare © Copyright Deirdre O’Neill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

Studying a Shakespearean play can either be a month of dragging your students up Dunsinane Hill or it can be an opportunity to share mirth and laughter. These texts rouse feelings of frustration and anxiety for students before they are even opened. Many students believe we only read them as a form of torture. I try to shake up my instruction to students with the universality of his language and ideas.

Pop Sonnets

The number one thing students complain about is the language. To introduce my students to the language and help them to see that it isn’t really foreign, I put them into groups to work together to “translate” pop sonnets. These are verses from current pop songs written to look and sound like Shakespearean sonnets. Groups of three or four are given a “sonnet” to translate into “real English”. I don’t give them the title or artist of the song, but may walk around giving them a line hint here or there. I let them use dictionaries and encourage paraphrase if they are having trouble with a line-by-line translation. When groups are done with their translations, they must try to guess the song and artist. Then, they read their translation to the class to see if they can guess. Check out Pop Sonnet for more resources and ideas. … KEEP READING

Tone Hunt

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To switch things up and get kids out of their seats, I like to do a “tone hunt.” Too often I find myself reading their essays and seeing the same generic five words to describe tone and none of them really captures the nuance intended. Though they have lists and I push them to use them in class discussion, their lack of familiarity with the context of the word prevents them from using it in their writing. … KEEP READING

Advertising Fallacies: Snowboarding Cars and Other Fine Things

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If there ever is a perfect time to teach visual analysis, appeals, and SOAPSTone, now is the time. You can’t look anywhere without being bombarded by pressure—to be the best, to have the best. The message everywhere is BUY.

In today’s media-driven society, teens are immersed in advertising. In most cases, because it is so ubiquitous, they don’t even notice. They tune out the bar on the Facebook Wall, the popups in their favorite phone games, and can even fast-forward through commercials with their DVR. This, however, doesn’t mean that they are immune to the subtle effects. Now, more than ever, we need to teach them to read these things for what they are—ploys to make money. … KEEP READING

Cracking the Code: Language and The Awakening

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We dive into language with a unit called “Breaking Free”, which focuses on feminist literature. Because high school students are saturated in the literature of “dead white guys”, this unit is meant to immerse them in the feminine perspective. Before The Awakening, we study The Story of an Hour and Desiree’s Baby. In addition, we read The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood, which drives an entire class period of discussion. Students become outraged and mock the text. It is always one of the most lively discussions of the year and I just ask them what they think.

Because a student’s entire understanding of the novella hinges on his or her reading of the first chapter and all of the clues that Chopin embeds , I read the first chapter in class and ask students to mark up the text as I read. Much of the time, this just becomes circled names and actions. Next, I ask them to go back and look at it through the lens of How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Forster, which they read over the summer. They get a little closer to the text and pick up on Chopin’s nuances– a primary symbol, characterization, and colors. … KEEP READING