Quick Writes

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Recently, I received a Facebook message from Travis, a student that I’d had the privilege of working with in my 11th grade English class several years ago. He wanted to tell me “In the spirit of Thanksgiving” how much my quick writes helped him “grow as a person.”  

This message surprised me, as my quick writes are nothing revolutionary; students are given a prompt and simply write their thoughts on the topic for 5 minutes. Next, the class discusses their ideas about the topic – usually for about 10 minutes, sometimes more if the discussion takes off, and then we move on to the next activity. Occasionally, the prompt is related to the main activity/lesson of the day and sometimes it is just a topic I think the students might like to discuss. You can find countless great prompt ideas on the internet – a wonderful one I found recently was in the New York Times titled Questions that Lead to LoveBut all that’s really required to make a good quick write prompt is that it’s thought-provoking. Later in the year, you can even mix things up by letting the students write the prompts.KEEP READING

Thoughts from an AP Lit Reader: Question 3

stack of books on the dark wood background. toning. selective focus on the middle book

Many of the lessons I learned from reading Question 3 essay after essay were ones I’d learned before, but the prevalence of some the problems that cropped up reinforced in my mind the points I am going to emphasize with my students next year. Here are some of the crucial ideas I’ll be bringing to my classroom this fall:

Introductions: GET to the point and HAVE a point

AP readers who are looking at many, many essays for many, many hours do not enjoy reading lengthy introductions. Students have a very limited time to write their essays and readers will understand (and appreciate) not having to hunt for a thesis amidst historical accounts of the author’s time period and your thoughts on which politicians tend to lie the most. Do not bother to restate the prompt, as I can assure you, many, many students have already done and do not give a laundry list of the three literary techniques you will be discussing in your essay. Instead, formulate an idea that answers the prompt using the novel you have chosen and hopefully incorporating the meaning of the novel as a whole and get on with your essay. KEEP READING

Begin the Year with Poetry

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For most of my career, I’ve saved poetry for the end of the year in my English classes. I did this for a couple of reasons. First of all, I LOVE poetry, and I tend to motivate myself by saving the best for last. Also, a poetry unit can be expanded or contracted to fit that awkward few weeks I often get left with in May – not enough time to start a novel, but way too long to just sit around watching movies. But, if I’m being honest with myself, my biggest reason for holding off on poetry was avoidance of the reactions of many of my students. When first confronted with poetry, the general consensus of my classes – at least the most vocal of them – is not an exclamation of joy. Introvert that I am, it is enough of a challenge getting to know a whole new crop of fresh young faces without additionally embarking on a journey as personal as poetry. However, I realized last year that the personal nature of poetry is exactly what makes it perfectly suited for the beginning of the year. … KEEP READING

Fishbowl Discussion – Taking Class Discussions to the Next Level

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Let’s face it; many students do not come into the classroom proficient in having a productive conversation. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which are media that often value the loudest, most quotable sound bite over the thoughtful listener, but because good discussion is so crucial to what I seek to accomplish in my classroom as well as what I hope for my students to accomplish in life, I had to devise a way to scaffold these skills. The fishbowl technique was the perfect solution. It gave my reticent students a forum to share their ideas, my garrulous students practice in the fine art of listening, and everybody a language to discuss how to be a better communicator.  Give it a try – it’s had a huge impact on my classroom. Here’s how I do it:KEEP READING

How to Be a Human: Exploring Theme in the Classroom

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Crickets . . .

English teachers everywhere can identify with the blank stares and silence that result from bringing up a skill or term that you KNOW students have encountered before in their vast experience with English class. Sure, some teachers are more successful at making concepts stick, but I’m pretty sure that when I talk about adverbs or symbolism, for example, this is definitely not the first time my students have heard the terms.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a little review with examples and practice are usually enough to refresh my students’ memories on most literary devices, but there is an exception to this rule: the idea of theme. Theme is not only one of the most difficult concepts to internalize, but also one of the most crucial – because, when you get right down to it, analyzing literature is really about finding meaning and that leads ultimately to the exploration of theme. So, how do we guide our students through the messy, wonderful task of deciding what a text means? … KEEP READING

Annotation for Smarties – 5 Tips for Teaching Students Active Reading and Critical Thinking

Active Reading

“How many of you have ever gotten to the end of a page of assigned reading, and realized you have no idea what you just read?”

Every year, I pose this question to my English classes, and every year, just about every hand goes up, including mine. I share with my students that there have been several times, even recently, that I’ve realized I have absorbed absolutely nothing of what I thought I just read, this, despite 16 years of teaching and a lifetime of being an avid reader. It’s the discovery of why this happens that led me to one of the most successful strategies I use to help my students become close readers: annotation.

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Why Impromptu Speeches Work

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I have a confession to make.

Up until this year, I’ve avoided public speaking activities in my classroom like the plague. It’s not that I don’t think students need it – apart from playing a pivotal role in the Common Core Speaking and Listening strand — being able to express ideas in a clear and concise way is a crucial skill for success in the adult world. It’s not that I never have students speak in front of the class. We have a few projects throughout the year in which groups get up and present a PowerPoint and discussion plays an essential part of instruction in my daily lessons.

But it is a very rare occasion that I have students stand up and autonomously give a speech to the class and that is for one reason and one reason only: they fight it tooth and nail. Sure, there are one or two hams that love to get up and bask in the spotlight, but they are few and far between, and until now, this wasn’t a hill I was willing to die on.  … KEEP READING

3 Reasons for Poetry Fridays

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Every Friday, we start my English class by playing around with a poem.

The study of poetry in English class is often devoted to seriously pursuing theme, searching for literary devices, and supporting ideas with textual evidence: all worthy endeavors, but not conducive to experiencing the enjoyment so many of us get from reading a poem that truly touches us. This is equivalent to being forced to write an essay on every single book you read for fun; it misses the point of why we read in the first place. I want my students to have the opportunity to enjoy poetry the way I do.

Here are three reasons Poetry Fridays can change the way your students feel about poetry: … KEEP READING