Headline poetry is so much fun!

It’s already my favorite back-to-school activity

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A few lines from a headline poem created by one of my seventh-grade students.

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.

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This is a picture of the words I used to make my own headline poem, which I used to show my students what a headline poem looked like. Showing kids an example of what they are making is important. I guess you could call this a “mentor headline poem.” 

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.

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Students need to use a variety of publications in which to find words. My school’s librarian gave me several copies of Motor Trend, Field & Stream, Dirt Bike magazine, Boys’ Life, and Sports Illustrated to add to the collection of women’s magazines (Vogue, Vanity Fair, Better Homes & Gardens, etc.) that I brought from home.  Variety is key.

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:

The Process
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.
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Fun project!

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! 

Back-to-School with 8th-graders: A Unit on Triangle Fire

Resources for teaching about the event that put a fire alarm in your classroom

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Taken on March 25, 1911 | The New York World, Mar. 26, 1911

On August 15, my 8th-graders will pick up where we left off in May—with a prelude to our study of the 1911 Triangle Waist Co. factory fire and its societal effects.

During the last few days of school, we watched a portion of New York City: The Documentary. It’s usually available at no charge if you have an Amazon Prime account. It is an excellent film that fills eight DVDs, and is directed by Ric Burns, the brother of award-winning documentarian Ken Burns. Interspersing historical photography with contemporary interview clips, including one of Donald Trump commenting on New York City architecture and geology, the film discusses the first wave of immigration of the early 1900s and its effects on our nation’s cultural heritage and economic strength.

The film helps students build the prior knowledge they will need to study the Triangle Fire tragedy next month when school starts. This disaster, noted as being the worst workplace fire in our nation’s history prior to 9/11, resulted in the death of 114 mostly female immigrant workers of Eastern European descent.

This website adds to what students learn in the film with an extensive selection of files. Check out this website from Cornell University to see profiles of survivors, obituaries of those who perished, timelines, newspaper accounts and other historical artifacts to complement the film, and the books that are discussed later in this post. This site is a a true treasure trove.

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We will begin reading portions of Flesh and Blood So Cheap  by Albert Marrin immediately when school starts. I read part of this text aloud and then I assign a chapter or two to students to read in groups at the four tables spread throughout my classroom. At the tables, students read the text jigsaw style, answering questions regarding their respective chapters. After reading their chapter, each student reports back to their “home” group to brief their group members on the particular chapters they read.

Doing this jigsaw activity is a good way for students to capture the gist of the chapters within the book. Working in groups is beneficial and helps students understand the big picture of what I would like students to learn about this time in history: our national response to this disaster and how our society ultimately learned from its failure.

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Our reading activities for Triangle Fire are interspersed with text-based questions that students answer in writing. The style and format of these short text-based question activities are a mainstay of my teaching. I was inspired to create these prompts by this article about New Dorp High School in The Atlantic magazine.

These exercises are a prompt of sorts with some student choice built in. And while I realize the prompts are very formulaic, I’m okay with that, since I believe students need guidance in using the specific tools writers use to express their ideas clearly.

Note: I’ll be writing a post next week with more details about these text-based question exercises, so follow my blog to get a notification if you’re interested in learning more.

Additional short readings are introduced as well in the Triangle Fire unit. We read from a pivotal text, called Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, written by David Von Drehle.  It’s a fascinating book with exciting narrative passages that perfectly illustrate how writers blend narrative into a nonfiction text. Von Drehle’s book explores the causes of the disaster and the outcomes of it. One chief result from the Triangle Fire are the better working conditions that came out of the Factory Investigating Commission, which was established in the fire’s aftermath.

Those better working conditions are something all students can relate to: fire drills. In fact, at the beginning of the unit, I ask students:

  • Why do we have fire drills?
  • When did these fire drills start?
  • Who decided that fire drills are necessary?

These discussions about the positives that came out of the tragedy are important. In fact, focusing on the good that resulted from such a horrifying tragic event —where scores of women jumped to their deaths to escape the factory flames— is about the only way I can see to present this topic. (After all, I’m not out to depress anyone or to add to anyone’s anxiety.)

I must focus on the positive take-away from Triangle Fire: to show students that we can learn from our mistakes. We can take the horrible events of life and turn them around for good. Yes, so many precious lives were lost… but ultimately not in vain.

  • Triangle Fire resulted in those red fire alarms that are placed in every classroom.
  • Triangle Fire resulted in outward hinged doors in places of business.
  • Triangle Fire resulted in fire drills, sprinklers, and other precautions that businesses and public spaces are required to provide for workers and the public.

Learning about Triangle Fire, reflecting, and writing about it will give my students greater understanding of the forces that have shaped our society. It will also make them more empathetic and well-rounded with their world knowledge. We complete the following writing activities to gain a better understanding of Triangle Fire:

  • Text-based question prompts
  • Student’s choice of an essay that may be either
    • informational (as in writing a survivor profile)
    • argumentative essay  (arguing any number of topics, such as the justice in the final acquittal of the negligent factory owners)
    • or narrative (as in writing a letter written by a survivor or surviving family member)
  • An essay that discusses three human rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that were not protected and/or were violated in the time leading up to the Triangle Fire.

So this is where I will begin the new school year with my eighth-graders. While Triangle Fire is a devastating subject to teach, it is also inspiring and ultimately a testament to the resilience and innovation of our great nation.


Thanks for reading! Click like if this resonated with you. Feel free to leave a comment or questions and to follow my blog!

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll be writing about how I connect Triangle Fire to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. In the meantime, read my post of 9/11 resources. Also this week, I’ll be sharing about the human rights dissertation that eighth-graders complete in the spring. The last essay bulleted above provides one part of this dissertation.

 

My closet can wait

I’m ready to take full advantage of the final two weeks of summer

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“I pulled the door open and perused the possessions of my teaching life.”

Two days ago, I drove to school and made my first entrance into the 2018-2019 year. Three eighth-grade girls were there waving at me from the front door as I loaded up my arms with bags from the back seat of my car. The girls were there for basketball practice, which would start in about an hour. Guess they’re excited for things to get rolling, I thought.

As I approached the front door, the girls made a tunnel with their arms. I jogged below their waving hands and we all cheered. It was a reverse, of sorts, of the final day of the school year two months earlier.

That’s when the teachers and staff at my small, rural middle school had formed a tunnel, like we always do, at the front door and cheered and showered the kids with hand sparkles as they made that final trip of the year to the waiting bus.

It was a fun and final moment… the culmination of nine months of planning, teaching, listening, cheering, testing, playing, working, and encouraging. Passing back through the girls’ tunnel into the school yesterday was a reminder that another fun and productive nine months is about to begin.

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Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Once inside, I caught up on summer news with the girls and then made my way down the hall to my classroom. Two other teachers were there, I noticed. One nearly had her room prepared; the other, I learned later, was just getting started.

I dug the key to my room from the zippered pouch inside my purse, and unlocked my room… the first of hundreds of times I will do this over the next several months, I thought.

I clicked on the lights. Every piece of furniture had been moved to one side of the room by the maintenance staff to make room for floor waxing. Chairs were stacked on tables. Desks were stacked on other desks. My kidney bean table– that I used to abhor, but now love, and I’ll tell you why later—was wedged behind the chipped, decrepit black bookshelves left by a teacher who had moved away two years earlier.

Boxes of items I requisitioned last spring were angled on top of the second-hand coffee table that normally holds bins of headphones and clipboards. Floor lamps teetered awkwardly between desks. A giant black trash bag hovered under a table, stuffed with the silk and plastic English ivy I will later use to dress up the bookshelves.

The room echoed as I strode across the tile. I set down my bags, opened a few of the boxes, and looked over at my closet. The right-hand door bulged open a half-inch and I remembered being unable to close it fully on the last day of school. It seemed only moments had passed since that final day when I had tried to rearrange the things inside so the door would fully close.  I had eventually given up; the prospect of two months of summer freedom enticed me to just walk away.

I pulled the door open and perused the possessions  of my teaching life— books, binders, trinkets from students, folders, a milk crate, rolled up posters, a skein of red yarn, hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, my golden “good luck” cat that waves from my desk during the year, DVDs, a glue gun, leftover soda from club meetings.

I snapped the picture you see above and decided to leave.  For while I’m excited for the school year to start, I’m also ready to take full advantage of the final two weeks of summer. I still have blog posts to write, a book or two I want to read, a short story I want to hash out, a daytrip to take with my daughter, and a guitar to strum around on.

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Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash

I read somewhere recently that the end of July is the Sunday night of every teacher’s weekend during the school year, when we maximize those last lingering moments of “me” time. It’s time to do just that, I said to myself. I  pressed against the door and closed it.

My closet can wait.


Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you have the same thoughts about the last days of summer. Follow my blog for more writing about teaching middle school ELA, including that post about why I love my heavy, awkward kidney bean table.

Ten Questions for Kohl’s About This Back-to-School Shirt

Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.

 

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This is the cover of a back-to-school Kohl’s catalog I received in yesterday’s mail.
  1. Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean. 
  2. Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
  3. Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
  4. Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.  
  5. Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
  6. Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
  7. You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
  8. Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
  9. Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
  10. Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.

 

 

If this post made you think click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more about my ELA classes. I’m a big fan of student writing contests, authentic writing, PBL and more. Thanks for reading!

 

When you return to your classroom before you’re required to return to your classroom

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I drove the twenty minutes to my classroom today to . . . start. There’s always a day or two (or three) before the big day when we’re required to return to school for in-service training.  On days like today, when I’m often working alone, I just begin. Here’s what I did, with the help of my husband for the heavy lifting:

  • returned all the furniture that had been moved to one side of my classroom by maintenance staff to its approximate place in the room
  • untangled a giant wad of electrical and computer cords that had also been moved
  • connected my computer back to its dock
  • set up the sound system
  • tested the speakers; played Ed Sheeran for a sound check; yep… sounds good
  • tested my smartboard
  • connected the document camera
  • put the desks into loose rows that will probably change before it all begins
  • helped a new teacher across the hall begin to get settled
  • made a mental note to purchase an oil diffuser like the one used by the same new teacher
  • rearranged my small black bookshelves
  • put the carpet down
  • uncovered the big bookshelves
  • stared inside my closet.  (But that’s all I did because it’s packed too tightly. Once I start unpacking it, there will be no going back.)
  • put some new stickers in my sticker drawer. (Never underestimate the value of a sticker.)
  • resolved to buy a new poster or two for my big poster wall
  • looked at some boxes of supplies and books I requisitioned last spring
  • decided to leave those boxes for another day

Now, I’m off to start a draft about Contest #4 That Works for My Students. Look for it tomorrow! Here’s a post about Contest #3. I love using writing contests in my ELA teaching.

If you enjoyed this post, click like and leave a comment. Follow my blog to catch that Contest #4 post! Thanks for reading.