Check out The Hero’s Journey podcast

Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

A great supplement to teaching the hero’s journey

Have you discovered “The Hero’s Journey” podcast? Subtitled “Books & Films Through a Mythical Lens,” this is a fantastically interesting podcast I used in February to supplement my hero’s journey lessons.

Use the monthly show to introduce students to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey in popular movies, some lesser known movies, older films, or even in movies you wouldn’t think (at first glance anyway) contain a hero’s journey.

The Hero’s Journey podcast features author Jeff Garvin and book blogger Dan Zarzana who dissect films into the distinct stages of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. You’ll find this short description on their website’s “About” page:

Pioneered by renowned mythologist and teacher Joseph Campbell, and refined for the context of modern storytelling by Disney veteran Christopher Vogler, The Hero’s Journey is a series of motifs and archetypes that pervade myths, folklore, and stories across all cultures and eras.

The Hero’s Journey: Books & Films Through a Mythical Lens

In each episode, the hosts spend about an hour to an hour-and-a-half parsing the movies out scene by scene to show precisely how the hero’s journey, and all its myriad steps, permeates the storyline.

Movie clips are used to illustrate key hero’s journey points in each podcast episode.

Here’s a sampling of movies covered on the show:

  • 3:10 to Yuma (In February, my classes listened to the podcast for this movie up to the “departure scene.” Listening to the hosts explain the various parts of the introductory movie scenes helped students to continue to follow the journey in the movie. It was an interesting way to help students realize that the hero’s journey is ubiquitous in narrative… even in this award-winning modern Western based on a short story by Elmore Leonard.
  • The Princess Bride
  • Field of Dreams
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Say Anything
  • Alien
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • A Christmas Story
  • Gangs of New York
  • Braveheart
  • Plus about seventeen more!

Take note that a good chunk of each episode devolves into discussions of microbreweries, after dinner drinks, and other alcoholic endeavors. Save time and keep students from objectionable content by skipping these portions.

Give this podcast a listen.

It offers another way for students, and auditory learners in particular, to find engagement with the hero’s journey. The series will reveal to students the influence of Campbell’s formula in popular culture and show them how vitally important the hero’s journey is to narrative traditions.


Thanks for reading! Have you already stumbled upon this podcast? How did you use it in your classroom? Feel free to click like, make a comment or become a follower for more posts about teaching ELA at the high school level.

Word clouds spice up distance learning

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Have kids make word clouds about life during the pandemic

My students have been home since March 17. As part of their distance learning, I’ve asked them to write a couple of paragraphs every other day or so for a “Life in the Time of Corona” journal.

This journal, which we will finish in the fall, will document their personal experience during the global pandemic.

I got the idea for students to create these journals thanks to a tweet from Kelly Gallagher in March. Here’s the assignment sheet I created to guide students through the journal assignment.

To add variety to their journals, I suggested that students illustrate life during the pandemic by making a word cloud… a collage of words from a news article or words they select on their own that this website then assembles into a composition based on the frequency of the words in the selection. Students choose the shapes of their clouds among other details explained below.

Sidenote:

Do you remember how several years ago these creations were known as wordles? I tried the wordle website, but found a message asking me, for security reasons, to purchase it in my app store. That seemed like too much hassle, so I kept looking and eventually found wordclouds.com, which was easy to access and use.

I gave students this website to use, wordclouds.com, which is published by Dutch game developer Zygomatic. I also provided them an example cloud, which I made by selecting the first paragraph of a news article I found online.

Here’s my example, which appeared quite small on the assignment sheet for the week:

My example I gave to students was in the shape of a butterfly.

In essence, a word cloud is a graphic representation of the ideas within a short text.

I’ve posted a few of these below that students have sent me by email or turned into my homework crate in the school lobby during the closing.

Camisha C.

I like how each word cloud is different. Each reflects the thoughts, emotions, and interests of each student.

Hannah G.

Students can customize fonts and cloud shapes, from coffee cups to continents.

Ella D.
Sara W.

Students can also choose the colors used to make their cloud.

Addysen G. (I took this picture directly from my laptop screen, so it appears pixellated.)

Some students have limited internet access. Those students –or even those tired of screentime–were able to make a word cloud by hand, like this one:

Riley C.
Jazlynn G.
Hayley J. (I took this picture directly from my laptop screen, so it appears pixellated.)
This screenshot shows the variety of shapes students can choose for their word clouds.

Along the way, I also asked students to collect scrapbook items they could add to the journals to add variety and interest. I’ve had kids collect order pad stubs from their restaurant jobs, labels off of hand sanitizer bottles, squares of toilet paper, four leaf clovers, and other items. I think I’m really going to enjoy seeing these journals come together next fall!

I like word clouds. They’re quick, fun, and allow students to be creative. Even if they’re merely copying and pasting words from another text, it’s still interesting to see what each student designs. Word clouds were a nice diversion in the middle of distance learning.


Thanks for reading! Have you ever used word clouds? Is there something else I should know about this activity or wordclouds.com? Leave a like, make a comment, and become a follower for more posts like this one. Here’s a link to a post from two weeks ago, How to Get 8th-Graders to Write 16-page Essays.

I’m trying out Padlet during distance learning

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

Six assignments I’m using to test-drive Padlet

Since so many aspects of teaching right now are new due to school closings amid COVID-19, what’s one more? As long as we’re entering unchartered territory, let’s not only learn how to Zoom, but let’s try Padlet as well.

Padlet is basically an online discussion board application that offers several ways for students to contribute their writing, media, or other content to a board that I create and customize. According to the Padlet.com website, the app will help users “Make beautiful boards, documents, and webpages that are easy to read and fun to contribute to.”

I would agree based on my use of the app so far.

This is my dashboard on Padlet.

When one creates a Padlet, a link is created for users or teachers to share with students. Students follow the link and can write a post onto the Padlet board. Depending on the type of Padlet template chosen, students may also upload other content, such as videos, photographs, or audio clips.

Users can try Padlet for free, which allows them to create three Padlet “boards.” Because I knew I would need more than that and because the app seemed to be easy and intuitive to use, I went ahead and purchased the $10/month subscription so I could make unlimited Padlets whenever I needed to while our school is closed through the end of the year.

In addition, I’ve added Padlet to my iPhone so I can check in and see student activity when I’m not at my desk. I can also edit existing Padlets or create new Padlets from my phone.

This clip shows me scrolling through my seniors’ “Barbara Allan” poetry assignment. I’ve included links in the assignment post that students click in order to watch another performance of the ballad. Students return to discuss the performance they watched and compare it to the original Medieval poem.

To the extent that I’ve used Padlet so far, I see great potential in using it for my reading and writing classes.

Right now, I’ve created six Padlet assignments while students learn from home. Here’s a description of each:

  • Padlet Title: Robert Frost Favorite Line(s) Reflections… My junior students started a unit on Robert Frost’s poetry in mid-March. I created a Padlet and assigned students to reflect in writing on their favorite line(s) from one of these three poems we read: “Mending Wall,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “Birches.” A day or so later, I asked students to read and write a comment on someone else’s Padlet post.
  • Padlet Title: “Mending Wall” Analysis… I also asked my juniors to watch a video that offered one analysis of “Mending Wall” and then give their perspective on that analysis, including their own personal views as well. Later, students added their thoughts to the opinions of at least one other student.
  • Padlet Title: The Ballad of “Barbara Allan” by Different Artists… After assigning students to read the Medieval British ballad, “Barbara Allan,” I made a Padlet that included several links to YouTube videos by musicians singing different adaptations of the poem. (This is an age-old ballad that has been “covered” over the centuries up to contemporary artists.) I asked students to post a comment on my original post to indicate which adaptation they wanted to listen to and then explain in their own post on the Padlet.
  • Padlet Title: Alt Title for A River Runs Through It Students were to think of an alternative title for the novel by Norman Maclean, and then describe why they would choose this title instead.
  • Padlet Title: A River Runs Through It Playlists… With this Padlet I asked students to post a music playlist for one of the two main characters in the novel.
  • Padlet Title: Tim O’Brien Interview Reflection… After watching a 25-minute video of an interview of author Tim O’Brien, students were to reflect in writing on the video addressing some key ideas discussed by O’Brien about his novel The Things They Carried.
This screen is where users choose the type of Padlet they want to create. At this point, I have used only the “Wall” template, shown first in the photo. I can see the “Timeline” template (lower right in photo) being useful for having students contribute key events in the history of a certain era, for example.

I envision projecting a Padlet as students work so they can publish immediately.

I can envision projecting a Padlet as students work so they can see their comments publish immediately, as well as those of others. Using Padlet in this way would add an immediacy to classroom writing.

Seeing other students thinking and writing in real time in response to a prompt or an ongoing class discussion could be really fun and interesting.

Not that my experience with Padlet has been problem-free. I’ll give you more details about that in my next post, “Pros and Cons of Padlet.”


Thanks for reading! My next post will list several pros of Padlet and a few really big cons that I’ve noticed. Do you have any experience with Padlet or another app you’ve tried out lately? Leave a comment to share your experience.

Watch this Outsiders movie, not that one

I’ve shown both Outsiders movies, but The Outsiders: The Complete Novel is more complete by far.

The Outsiders: The Complete Novel includes a subplot that the original leaves out

If you’re like me, you love The Outsiders and can’t imagine teaching middle school ELA without it.

So many kids identify with the Tulsa, Oklahoma greasers and their struggles with socioeconomic class differences, personal identity, and family relationships.

Here’s my advice: Make sure you watch The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. It’s not always listed as being different from the original 1983 movie, but take the few extra minutes to find it.

Make sure you see the words “The Complete Novel” on the DVD jacket.

It was released in 2005 and includes twenty-two additional minutes. Those extra minutes allow room for a new beginning, and a “character-enriching” subplot that resolves at the end in a moving scene with Darry, Ponyboy, and Sodapop. The subplot reveals the Curtis brothers’ deepening relationships as their “family” survives the conflict with the Socs and the deaths of Johnny Cade and Dallas Winston.

Both movie versions will work, of course, but The Outsiders: The Complete Novel is like the title says… “more complete.”

It does contain a PG-13 rating instead of the PG original.

While it does contain brief language when Two-Bit confronts Johnny’s mother in the hospital (thereby earning the PG-13 rating), The Outsiders: The Complete Novel gives you more to discuss in class and follows the book much more completely than the original movie.


Thanks for reading! I’m working on a really involved post about an eighth-grade extended writing project I taught at my previous school. It’s one I’m adapting for my new position with high school juniors and seniors. Follow my blog to read that post next Tuesday.

Classic Krakauer: an escape to the rugged outdoors for couch-bound students

Yesterday, I flipped through the newest book from Jon Krakauer, Classic Krakauer: Essays on Wilderness and Risk. As usual with Krakauer’s prose, I was once again transported to the far reaches of possibility. With Krakauer as my guide, I rappelled down 1,000 feet into Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico; I walked along the sulfur-scented volcanic rim of Mt. Rainier; I climbed beneath an overhanging “bulge of glacial ice” in Mt. Everest’s Khumbu Icefall.

In short, I was taken far away from my couch on yet another day at home during the month-long break my school is taking to control the spread of COVID-19. True, since I teach in a rural school, many of my students are fortunately able to get outside. Social distancing is easy to do out in the country. Still, Krakauer’s adventures allow readers to experience exotic sights and destinations they might never expect to see beyond their local environs.

I wish each of my students had a copy of this book to read at home during the break.

I’ve been a fan of Jon Krakauer ever since I read Into Thin Air, his eyewitness account of the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy where eight climbers were killed in an unexpected snowstorm on their descent from the summit. Since then, I’ve read Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless and his fatal journey into the Alaskan wilderness; Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith; and Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.

Krakauer’s latest book, Classic Krakauer, is a 181-page compilation of ten essays and articles that he wrote early in his career as a freelancer for The New Yorker, Outside and Smithsonian magazines, and New Age Journal. I haven’t read them all yet, but here are those I have read so far:

  • Descent to Mars, the story of NASA research in Lechuguilla Cave
  • Death and Anger on Everest, an account of the 2014 tragedy that highlighted the dangers sherpas endure
  • Living Under the Volcano, a story about the prospects of living beneath Mt. Rainier
  • After the Fall, an account of the liability issues that have arisen with the rising popularity of mountain sports

Any one of these pieces would be excellent — and I mean EXCELLENT — readings for my junior and senior English students. Each is a riveting mix of narrative and expository prose packed with compelling digressions that build thick, meaty tales that can be consumed in one — okay, maybe two — sittings.

Even studying Krakauer’s vocabulary would be beneficial for my students. While much of the book’s vocab is domain specific to, for example, mountaineering (such as belay) or geology (such as lahar), Krakauer also employs a healthy dose of rich Tier 2 words that my students need to read and hear (such as discombobulated or pique). Many of my students think writers use “big words” just to confuse readers; Krakauer’s sophisticated semantics are an essential and useful component to his prose.

I’m thinking about requisitioning a classroom set of this book for next year.

Any one of the writings within it would spark robust discussions not only about the subject matter, but also about the writing moves Krakauer makes. Yes, I see great potential in Krakauer’s latest offering.


Thanks for reading! Do you use any Krakauer books in your classroom? What has been your experience? Placed any orders for next year? It seems so far in the future to be thinking about next fall, but once the corona virus chaos is over, it will be back to normal before we know it. Leave a comment with your thoughts about your wish list for 2020-21.

A River Runs Through It: a fresh walk outside for students staying at home

The movie adaptation (at left) is just that: an adaptation. It follows the book with a few minor changes. In the middle is a mass market paperback I’ve had forever; at right is the class set hardcover my students are reading.

My Novels class is reading this over the break

My Novels class is currently reading (or supposed to be reading — wink wink) this classic novel by Norman Maclean. I’m reading it again alongside them and this morning I arrived at page forty. It’s only 110 pages long, so it’s a quick read.

If you haven’t read this novella, do; it’s a breath of fresh air in this time of social distancing. (And sidenote: If you’re not into fly-fishing, push through the long, tedious paragraphs about casting, fish psychology and other specific aspects of the sport; however, don’t dismiss these purposeful passages either. Maclean uses fly-fishing metaphorically to tell his story.)

Based between Helena and Missoula, Montana, much of the action takes place on the Big Blackfoot and the smaller Elkhorn. The story shows the struggles of a young Montanan named Paul Maclean through the eyes of his older brother, Norman. The brothers share idyllic childhoods as the sons of a Presbyterian minister. In telling about his brother’s adult life that revolves around journalism, betting, alcohol, and fly-fishing, Norman shares his own struggle to take care of those we love but don’t ever quite understand.

Don’t miss the 1992 PG-rated movie adaptation. It’s also an escape into the great outdoors and the depths of family compassion. Directed by Robert Redford (read my post on Robert Redford Dessert here), the 1992 movie stars Craig Scheffer as Norman Maclean, a very young Brad Pitt in the role of Paul, Tom Skerritt as the boys’ father, and Brenda Blethyn, as their mother.

That’s all I’ll say for now, but know that this novel takes you out on great northern rivers, along Montana roads, into dark and dusty speak-easies, and into Presbyterian church pews where a message of love and forgiveness is extolled.


Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you’ve taught this book before.

Photo Friday Eve: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

IMG_2289
This is educator and innovator Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist.

Happy Friday Eve!

This is a quick pic of Austin Kleon’s book,Steal Like An Artist. In this book, Kleon, the inventor of black-out poetry, discusses creativity, the values of unplugging from technology to create, and tips for producing more.

He offers up some solid ideas that I found particularly helpful. Here are two:

  1. Don’t throw any of yourself away. If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life. 

I love this idea! I often feel like I have no focus with my writing. For example, on my personal blog, I write about travel destinations and parenting. I also have some personal narratives and short stories along with some more serious education-related essays that I’ve reposted from this blog. But that’s not all! I’ve also posted three random reviews of Ed Sheeran concerts I’ve seen. I’ve often thought Wow, I need to focus. Reading Kleon’s advice to keep cultivating all these parts of my writing was reassuring. I need to trust that all these topics have a reason for being explored. This next tip is closely related:

2.  Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece. What unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it.

Ahhh! That’s so good to hear! To know that there are benefits to writing about myriad topics. Again, I love how Kleon believes branching out and cultivating a variety of works is perfectly okay. That’s a good thing that someone with diverse interests like me needs to hear.


Thanks for stopping by! Kleon’s book is worth a look-see, not only for your own use, but for use in the classroom to cultivate and encourage creativity. Follow my blog for more posts about teaching ELA in a high school classroom. Here’s a recent post: Treasured Object Poems: A favorite poetry activity for all grades