I’m following a year-long plan that I have outlined in my spiral planner that I keep on my desk on top of another binder where I keep printed copies of my Planbook plans. As you can see, I’m a very paper-based person.
So even switching to entering my lesson plans online was a huge step; however, it’s going well. I like how I can skip around to the next week quickly, or bounce back to the previous week or month to see exactly what I did during each class.
In addition, the search function is priceless. For example, I can enter “run-on sentences” into the search bar and a list of lessons pop up that show me exactly when run-on sentences were taught or discussed. In the past, I had to manually page through my binder and search.
Planbook’s $15 annual subscription fee is worth it. Before jumping into the subscription, however, I investigated Planboard, another online lesson planning tool. (Planboard is free of charge, by the way.) To set up Planboard, it required several details about times of classes, duration of terms, and other aspects of scheduling. At the time, I wasn’t able to devote that much thought to it, so I reverted back to Planbook because it is so straightforward and simple to begin. I bet no more than five minutes passed between when I initially logged in to when I began entering plans.
So, bottom line: Planbook is working. Planbook is simple. If you haven’t started using an online lesson planning tool, I would definitely recommend Planbook. It has completely changed the way I plan lessons.
Thanks for stopping by! How do you plan your lessons? Planbook? Planboard? Do you use good ol’ binders? Comment away with your experiences with lesson planning. See you next week.
Last week, one of my students came across the term “hyperbole” on a vocabulary assignment. “What does hyperbole mean?” he asked.
Wow, I thought. Five years ago, my students knew that term. Why? Because I taught it to them, along with other common figurative language techniques. Why? Because they were specifically listed in the standards, which at the time were known as Grade-Level Expectations (GLEs) and were in place when I began teaching in 2011.
And this illustrates my one and only complaint with the MLS for English Language Arts: They just seem a little vague, when compared to the old GLEs, which were clear, specific, and practically a checklist even, of the techniques and academic language terms Missouri kids were expected to know. Heck, I even remember printing out the figurative language section of the GLEs for each grade that I taught (6th, 7th, and 8th), and crossing off each device as I covered it in my classes.
In general, I’m a fan of the Missouri Learning Standards, and their progenitor, the Common Core. I can support the various standards and the modifications made.
Yes, at first, I questioned the subjugation of grammar, mechanics, and conventions (known as language standards) under various subsections of the writing standards; however, as a teacher in my third year of implementation of the MLS, I have reconciled what some may perceive as a dismissal of grammar with what I believe is a more authentic approach that 1) stresses an initial emphasis in the writing process on ideas, and 2) leaves the grammar checks and editing for later. In the words of the late writing instructor Gary Provost, “Good grammar does not guarantee good writing any more than a good referee guarantees a good basketball game.”
Still, my support for this aspect of the MLS is tempered by a desire for greater specificity within those standards, especially when those specifics include literary techniques that I know my students will be expected to know during standardized testing in the spring.
In effect, the CCSS and MLS have left it up to the educators to pinpoint the devices they will teach. And, yes, it’s excellent that educators are allowed the freedom to teach the devices they choose, but how am I supposed to help my students do well on a standardized test (that ultimately determines federal funding of my school district, by the way) if I am unaware of the items to be tested?
So, even though I support the CCSS and the MLS, holes do exist in them. I’ve attended standard setting meetings with other educators where we’ve pored over the standards line by line. And true, one could say the standards reflect overall what educators have deemed necessary; however, those needs do not always match up with the tests that students undergo every spring.
To remedy that, my ideal standards would be a melding of the old GLEs into the MLS that would precisely include the specific skills, techniques, and terminology that students need to know not only to express themselves accurately but also to successfully complete a standardized test.
Thanks for reading my blog again this week! I’m sharing this activity below from Education.com even though I’m receiving no compensation for doing so. This puzzle, which you could use as a bell-ringer, exit ticket or simply as a discussion starter, will help your students learn the seven most common figurative language techniques: simile, hyperbole, alliteration, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia, and oxymoron.
The Essential Questions: How can history inform public policy? How do people prevent past tragedies from reoccurring?
Based on those essential questions (developed with help from our school’s art teacher, Joan Edgmon, by the way), I’m sure that some may think I’ve forgotten that I teach Language Arts. They may even wonder if I’m actually a history teacher in disguise. But to that, I would answer: Actually, I just see value in using historical events for writing topics because they…
1) teach kids about the world and broadens their background knowledge.
2) provide relevancy to writing and connect school with the outside world.
3) reveal to kids that remembering past tragedies can help prevent their reoccurrence.
Connecting the Triangle Waist Co. fire, the most tragic industrial workplace fire in U.S. history until the World Trade Center (WTC) fires on Sept. 11, is one study we delved into again this fall like we do every year in my 8th-grade classes. However, this year, I designed this poetry project to help students creatively explore the connections between these two events. In the past, I’ve assigned a written essay to explore these connections, but this year, with the DAR American History Essay Contest right around the corner, I wanted to give the kids more variety with a non-essay genre: free verse poetry.
Read this post to get some background on my Triangle Fire & World Trade Center unit. In short, skyscraper building codes that had been developed in response to the 1911 Triangle Fire were relaxed during the early design of the World Trade Center towers in the 1960s. These building code changes (including a reduction in the required numbers of emergency stairwells, permission to cluster elevators in central areas, and the absence of brick masonry requirements, plus others) likely contributed to the death toll on Sept. 11, 2001.
The rest of today’s post focuses on this culminating free verse poetry project I tried for the first time with students this year. The results were not perfect; I already know a few things I need to change for next year. However, I was pleased with the thinking my students engaged in, and I was also pleased with the creativity they showed in producing the visual elements of this assignment.
Here were the requirements for the poetry project:
Triangle Fire and World Trade Center Fires
Write a free verse (non-rhyming) poem about the Triangle Fire.
Write a free verse (non-rhyming) poem about the WTC fires.
Juxtapose the two poems on construction paper or some other paper.
Include a “gallery label.” See below for details.
Requirements for the project:
Each poem should be at least ten lines long.
Each poem should give this information: date, number of deaths, causes of death, lessons learned (Triangle reforms & WTC recommendations)
Each poem’s shape or appearance should remind us of the specific building the fire occurred in. Ideas: line for each floor? Arrange the lines to represent flames?
Each poem should also mention a lesson learned from the fire. What positive element can you add? The reforms made as a result of the fires?
The poems should “allude” to each other. There are a few ways one could do this…
Have your Triangle poem mention somehow the World Trade Center or vice versa.
Make both poems share a line, i.e. the same line appears in both poems.
Make both poems share a line, i.e. the same line literally connects the two poems.
Write a gallery label that will appear alongside your juxtaposed poems.
The gallery card needs to explain the two fires, relate how your poems address the two fires. You may want to also explain: how the two fires are connected historically, what we can learn from the tragedies to ensure that history does not repeat itself in this way again.
Get creative! Need art supplies? Let me know what I need to bring.
I passed out a handout that listed all the requirements at the beginning of the project. Then we decided that when we finished it would be fun to post all the completed projects in my room in “gallery walk style” so students could vote on the top six, which would then be posted in the hallway. The gallery walk took nearly a full class period because they were so interested in doing a good job. I changed the selection of poems to post in the hallway by removing one that, while being in the students’ top six, didn’t express any lessons learned from the tragedies. Plus, I included a couple more projects that showed strong effort.
Here are some of the most effective projects. Even though the poems were the most important part of this assignment, the visual elements also had a job to do, which was to convey meaning to the poetry. Some of the photos have been cropped so the poetry can be more easily read.
One thing I know I’ll change for next year is to require that no airplanes appear in the projects. While I’m glad that students understand what ultimately caused the disaster that took so many lives, the unit was intended to focus on how builders and developers literally forgot many of the fire-prevention lessons learned from Triangle Fire.
Finally, it’s always good to focus on the Essential Questions: How can history inform public policy? How do people prevent past tragedies from reoccurring?
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment if I’ve left out some key point— or if you spot a typo! I wrote this up fairly quickly over the weekend, and feel like there’s got to be a grammar issue or two somewhere in here. I’ll update this post as I think of other ideas or tips to include. Have a great week!
Plus: a few things my students didn’t know about 9/11
On Wednesday, Sept. 12, I took my eighth-grade students to a local college to view the 9/11 memorial there. I have wanted to do this for a couple of years and finally, this year the stars aligned: my lesson planning fell into place, a few phone calls were made, permission slips were returned, and it happened.
My co-teacher next door and I both share classes, and as a result, we have a possible 100 minutes available to take short outings around our town. Local field trips are actually something we should take more advantage of because I think it really helps kids to get out into the community and experience what it offers.
Viewing the local memorial’ actual steel column from a building destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001 is important and helps to make the terror attacks a tangible reality for kids. Since they weren’t even born yet in 2001, I get the feeling from talking with them that 9/11 is an event relegated to the distant past, (as hard as that might be for older adults to believe!).
Fortunately, middle school kids are VERY interested in the attacks, however. They want to learn about them and understand the gravity of the event. Read this post to see how I cover 9/11 in my language arts classes.
Here are a few things my students didn’t know about 9/11 prior to our discussions:
One student thought that only one plane was involved.
They didn’t know the hijacked planes were carrying passengers; they thought the hijackers were flying their own empty planes.
A few didn’t know that radical Islam was the religion observed by the hijackers.
They didn’t know that people from all over the world worked in the World Trade Center towers.
They didn’t know about the bombing of the Pentagon or Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
They had no idea the cleanup lasted for nine months.
They didn’t know that buildings in addition to the Twin Towers were damaged and/or required demolition.
They didn’t know anything about the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
They didn’t know who Osama bin Laden was.
This week, kids will continue to read about the 9/11 attacks and apply what they learn to a few writing projects. I’ll update you on those activities soon.
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment with your own 9/11 teaching ideas and projects. I’d love to hear what you do in your classroom.
This candy-themed essay is a great intro to the genre of memoir
My second writing project with sixth-graders (after the Sometimes Poem) is memoir writing. We dip our toes into memoir writing by documenting memories that involve candy. If kids can’t think of anything or don’t really like candy, they can write about a favorite food instead.
Memoir is usually a new genre for sixth-graders, so we first learn what a memoir is. To do that, I start with what they know… a story about something that’s happened to them. It can be a happy time or a sad time, but it just has to be a true story. This is called the personal narrative, and this year, when I asked who could tell me what a personal narrative is, several hands shot up. That’s an awesome sign! I so appreciate the teachers these kids had in their elementary years. They have established such a firm foundation to build on!
After discussing the features of a personal narrative, I passed out a memoir to everyone. This one was called “Whatchmacallits and Me” and had been written by Hunter, a former student who is now in high school. Several of the kids knew this student and were curious to see his writing.
I turned on my document camera, and asked kids to draw a line on their copy of the memoir. This line was just above the last paragraph, which contained a reflection or observation written by the student about the memory. I then asked the kids to crease the paper on the line, folding the last paragraph under the sheet of paper. I made a point to call the part they were now looking at a personal narrative.
I read aloud the narrative from the beginning to the line that we had drawn. As I finished reading, I told them, “That was the personal narrative.” Then we briefly discussed the strongest moment in the narrative, the weakest moment, and other things we noticed.
Then I asked the kids to unfold their paper After everyone had unfolded their paper, I announced, “Presto! Abracadabra! Just like magic, Hunter’s narrative has turned into a memoir!” By folding down the final paragraph, which contained the reflection, we revealed the memoir. I explained it this way so they could see that a memoir contains everything that a narrative does, but that it also includes a moment of reflection.
I also show a Powerpoint slide that shows the differences between the personal narrative and the memoir. I leave this up on the Smartboard for the duration of class. See below for these lists:
Here are the features of a personal narrative, as listed in my Powerpoint:
Uses sensory language (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, texture)
BUT ALSO: Has a reflection… a “lesson learned”, a realization, or an explanation of why the memory is important to you
BUT ALSO: May contain exaggeration, and made-up details, if necessary.
We repeated this same procedure for another former student’s memoir about chocolate-covered graham crackers. For good measure, we did this one more time with an essay titled “Ice Cream” from the book, Candy and Me: A Love Story by Hilary Liftin. I searched on Amazon.com for it and its current edition’s title is Candy and Me: A Girl’s Tale of Life, Love, and Sugar.
Liftin’s book contains several (around 30-40) memoir essays about specific candies. I especially like the chapters on Bottle Caps, Ice Cream, Tootsie Rolls, the Bubble Burger, Sugar, Candy Corn, and Conversation Hearts. (There are a few essays with passages not suitable for middle school, so plan ahead for that.) However, this book provides enough texts to share with students to help them get ideas for their own.
Following all of these read-alouds, we did quite a bit of sharing. We talked about our favorite candy, why we like it so much, and then we tried to narrow our ideas to a specific memory with that candy.
Memories with our favorite candy don’t have to be life-changing to make a good memoir; if sitting around the campfire eating s’mores just reminds one of being happy, then that’s a special enough memory for the assignment. It’s okay for the reflection to simply acknowledge that a s’more reminds you of good times.
At this point, I had students get out a sheet of notebook paper and asked them to do some free-writing about their favorite candy. Getting thoughts down about their candy was the main objective. They could start by simply describing their candy… flavors, texture, appearance, or what the
Many started bringing me short paragraphs about how great their candy was and that was okay. However, at this time, I asked them to record a memory with the candy. It could be as basic as just riding home from the grocery story in the back seat of the car, slowly peeling back the wrapper and inhaling the white chocolate aroma of a Zero bar. This usually prompted students to get a little more down on paper.
Sixth-graders love to write a few lines and then come up to you and ask, “Is this good?” They really want to do well.
As a usual practice, I like for kids to do their initial writing by hand on paper. When they have filled up the front of a sheet of paper, I allow them to get out a laptop and type it up, making any changes they need to as they go. One page of writing is a lot to a sixth-grader, so I offer to give them ideas if they get stuck and can’t fill up the page.
Probably the best thing about these candy memoirs is they allow me to talk with each student individually and get to know them a little better. It’s fun to find out that we like the same candy, for example. Sometimes we find out that someone’s favorite is someone else’s least favorite.
It is difficult for some kids to add reflective moments into their narratives. Many will simply not add them until I prompt them with a phrase such as, “Looking back on it now, …” or “Eating Skittles showed me that…”
The candy memoir is an entry point into the genre of memoir. In fact, we follow up this sweet assignment by writing a memoir that isn’t based on candy, but on a memory of a special moment from their young lives. As we get into this part of the unit, I’ll fill you in on those details.
Thanks for reading! Check back with me next week for a continuation of this post. I’ll write about the next step… venturing out into writing a memoir about a special or memorable moment.
This year, we wrote out an exploded moment instead of just watching one be narrated in a video.
Last Tuesday, I planned an activity for my seventh- and eighth-grade classes that worked so well, I knew I had to share. We exploded a baseball moment.
“Exploding a moment “ is what writing teacher Barry Lane calls it when writers take an important moment from a narrative and approach it like a filmmaker treats an important movie in a film… in slow motion. When we visualize the moment in slow motion and then describe the moment in slow motion, we automatically describe it in such detail that the reader views the event with the same intensity and importance that the writer does.
In the past, I have always shown one of Lane’s videos where he replaces the sentence, “I poured the milk over my cousin’s head and it made a huge mess and milk went everywhere,” with a thoroughly engaging and highly detailed “mind movie” of the milk incident that explodes across a full page or two. We visualize the milk running in rivers down the cousin’s face. We visualize the milk dripping onto the table and then puddling on the floor. We visualize the horrified expression on the cousin’s face as she blinks to keep the milk out of her eyes. Here’s that video, which we watch only to 2:40.
This year, I decided to show another of Lane’s videos where he hits a baseball out of the ballpark. It’s a three-second moment and then it’s over. But then he follows that clip with the same scene in a slow-motion sequence that extends for about one minute.
As I previewed the video, I got the idea to play the slo-mo part in class and stop the video about every five to ten seconds so students could describe what they saw in each snippet.
With a short talk where we recalled the spilled milk video to review what we already knew about “exploding a moment,” we reacquainted ourselves with the concept to use in our “slice of life” essays that students had started the previous day.
Then I played the “baseball video where Lane introduces and discusses using the “explode a moment” technique to describe especially important moments during decisive events in our lives, such as hitting a home run in a championship game.
After the introduction, we watch the slow-mo part and then I ask students to get out a sheet of notebook paper and a pencil or pen. I explain that I will play a short segment of the slow motion portion and then stop it. At that time, they’ll write about what they just saw. And that’s exactly what we did last week.
After about every third snippet, I asked a few kids to share the last two to three sentences they had written. They had fun doing that, plus it was fun to see how different kids described the exact same video.
When we finished the activity (at the 1:39 point), several students shared their writing, which filled the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper. Only a few kids had less than a page. Most of the students couldn’t believe how much they had written.
We discussed how “exploding a moment” in slow-motion helps the readers visualize the story and how sometimes that kind of visualization involves a lot of writing.
Watching the video five to ten seconds at a time takes quite a bit of time. In fact, when I do this again, I’ll adjust my bell-ringer activity at the beginning of class so we end the activity with about twenty minutes left of class so kids actually have time to get out their laptops and work on their drafts.
Last week, when we finished, there was about eight minutes of class left… not quite enough time to get out their slice-of-life drafts in order to apply the technique.
That last eight-minutes of class last week would have been a prime time to share a handout I made the next morning called, “Explode the Right Moment.” I used parts of a book by Gary Provost called 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.
My handout basically suggests using the “explode a moment” technique judiciously. In other words, choose the right moment to explode.
In any story, there will be only one to two key moments to explode in this way. For example, don’t explode your character’s walk to his car if the walk isn’t important to the story.
Find an important moment and explode that moment only.
Some kids have trouble finding such moments. I let students know I can help them find “explodable” moments if they need help.
Three more key tips I remember from last week:
Let kids know that, although Lane suggests exploding the big moments of our lives, this technique works equally well with the small, yet important, ordinary moments of our lives. That’s why I think it applies to “slice-of-life” writing especially well.
Don’t play the video segments over again and again. Perhaps once is fine, but any more than that and kids get the idea that they don’t have to be watching carefully.
Make sure kids stay “in the moment” for now. Some will be tempted to write about, for example, Aunt Julie watching the home run from the stadium bleachers and dreaming of her former baseball playing days. Encourage students to stay on the field and not to over-invent for now. The point is to describe the hitting of the ball, the build-up before the hit where the pitcher and batter are eyeing each other up, stepping back and forth, taking a few test swings, and all the other tiny worthy details that create a vivid, fleshed-out version of the hit.
I heard probably one or two “That was kinda fun!” comments in each class and I thought about how neat it would be to have other one-minute videos available of some activity done in slow motion. These could be a band walking onto a stage at a concert, the first time seeing a baby sibling, opening a special Christmas present.
Using videos such as these would allow this to be a recurring activity where we could continue to build our skills in seeing the intricacies of a moment in order to write about them fully and completely.
I may even do this activity with my sixth-graders in a couple of weeks as they continue to work on their memoirs. I’ll share about how it works with them when I write about that unit soon.
Thanks for reading! Let me know how you use Barry Lane’s materials in your classes. I have the entire “Barry in a Box” set, but frankly, the DVD set was somewhat disappointing in quality and navigation. I just use what videos I can (such as the two mentioned in this post) by searching for them on Youtube. Follow me for more news from my middle school ELA classroom.
For the first week of school, my seventh- and eighth-graders created poetry made up of words and phrases found in newspapers and magazines. I found the idea on NCTE’s website, which offers lesson plan ideas. I also accessed this site where I found this beautiful quote that captures, for me anyway, the nature of headline poetry.
Finding words and then limiting yourself to using those words in your poetry creates spontaneous word choices, unexpected metaphors, and other surprising experimentation with language. My students fully enjoyed this project. I actually had a few students rushing into class, wanting to dive right back into the project, picking up where they left off the previous day.
One thing I especially liked about the project is that it capitalizes on the first few days of school. Kids naturally want to talk and visit with each other after summer break. During the first two class periods of the project, they were allowed to do just that as they searched for and cut out 75-100 words and phrases.
Then, after most of them had their words cut out, it was time to settle down a bit and start to concentrate on their poems, arranging and rearranging the pieces of paper on their desks or tables. It was truly “playtime with words,” which is a nice way to ease back into the school routine. I am definitely going to do this activity again next year.
Here’s the basic plan I used from a handout I made for students:
A headline poem uses words or phrases from newspaper and magazine headlines to craft a poem. There are several steps:
Make an envelope with construction paper and tape. Put your name on it. Keep your clippings in it.
Select some newspapers and magazines, leaf through them, and cut out interesting words and phrases from headlines. Avoid small print words because they’re too hard to keep track of and glue down later. Collect between 75 and 100 words and phrases from different sections of newspapers and magazines to gather a range of vocabulary, as well as selections of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
Don’t forget to cut out basic words such as the, a, an, and, and prepositions such as into, over, beyond, and through.
Use a variety of publication subject matter; don’t just use fashion magazines. For example, use fashion magazines, hunting magazines, the local paper, and a recipe magazine.
Scatter the words and phrases on a desk, table or the floor, and look for themes, synonyms and rhyming words. Play with the words and how they sound.
After you have your 75 words, avoid the temptation to go back to the magazines to search for specific words; use your clippings. Let the “found” words direct your poem; the spontaneity of headline poetry is what we’re after.
Arrange and rearrange the words and phrases on a page and read them aloud to check for fluency and impression. Because there is a visual quality to headline poetry, the placement of text can contribute to the presentation of ideas and meaning.
You may see a theme or a topic emerge as you play with words. Go with it!
When the desired order and placement of text is achieved, glue the words onto a blank sheet of 11″ x 17″ construction paper with a glue stick.
Work neatly and slow down when you’re gluing. Don’t let the project “fall apart” because you rushed.
Don’t forget a title. Your first line may work well as the title.
When you are totally finished with your poem, write your name on the back and turn it in. When we display these in the hall, I will give you a nameplate to fill out that will be placed on the front.
Some of the poems are incredible with interesting word combinations and definitely higher order thinking.
When students were limited to using the words and phrases they “found,” it required that they take risks with their word choice. It required that they experiment with words.
For example, in the example at the top of this article… who would have ever described a sunset as pure iced tea?
That’s the excitement and fun of headline poetry. I definitely recommend it. Try it sometime!
Follow my blog to get an email when I post pictures of my students’ headline poems displayed in the hallway. You’ll see the variety of how kids adapted to this project. Obviously, some were comfortable experimenting with words and some weren’t. In any case, I think most, if not all, enjoyed the hands-on nature of the project. Thanks for reading!