Corona virus journals foster creativity

A student’s journal entitled “The Lost Journal of a Miss Savannah B.”

A reminder that students can still thrive in uncertain times

Don’t underestimate your students when it comes to distance learning. Some of them might surprise you and take your assignment to new heights, as my senior student Savannah B. did with her journal (shown in photos).

Savannah took my Life in the Time of Corona journal assignment and made it her own. She ditched the laptop and wrote it on brown kraft paper, burned the edges to give it an antique look, and added stains to age it some more. She even glued a swatch of toilet paper to the cover!

In short, it’s unexpected, innovative and has an anachronistic time-travel vibe.

I was intrigued with Savannah’s motivation and process, so I asked her a few questions (via the Remind app) about her journaling experience:

Q: What prompted you to get so creative with your journal?

A: I had started doing it on a Google doc and to be completely honest, that was very boring to me. Who would want to read that? I had a hard time concentrating on it and actually wanting to do it and I remembered I had created something similar for an assignment at my old school and so I took that idea and created something new with it. I wanted to hook people in.

Q: Why did you decide to give it a historical tone?

A: I was definitely going for the ancient effect. I figured it would give it more character.

Q: Your journal almost sounds imaginary due to its historical look and the word choices you made. Was any part of it made up?

A: Everything, or almost everything, in it was true. For example, I really did have a family member that got tested for COVID-19 and it was scary. Thankfully, the tests were negative though.

I am convinced that someday Savannah’s journal will be a treasured record of her life during this historic global event. It will also be an expression of her creative mind and aspirations as she heads off to college in the fall.

I’m sure you have students like Savannah. Y’know, those students who enjoy what you teach (for the most part, right?!) and thrive with projects that get them away from the notebook or keyboard for a while. Savannah is one of those students who saw the potential in doing some extra time with this project.


Here’s what the assignment initially asked students to do:

Over the next week, keep a journal of your activities, thoughts, and experiences in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.  Here are some ideas:

  • Write about what you do know about the virus.
  • Write about what you don’t know.
  • Is it business as usual? (Describe business as usual… your normal routine.)
  • Are you going out? Where?
  • What have you cancelled?
  • How has COVID-19 affected your life so far?
  • Have you tried to shop for supplies in case of a lockdown? How did that go?
  • Do you know what to do if we are restricted?
  • Write about the contradictions or confusion that exists in the media.
  • Reflect on the memes that seem to be multiplying faster than the virus itself.
  • What news stories have you heard, read, or watched?
  • Has anything or anyone inspired you in the midst of the coronavirus?
  • In short, write about whatever you want to write about as it relates to the pandemic.”

For a link to this assignment sheet that you can adjust to fit your needs, click here.

It’s important for kids to be writing about their lives right now. Years into the future, we will need to hear their stories and it’s always more valuable when those stories are written down as they are happening… and not in retrospect.

On one of my favorite blogs, Two Writing Teachers, children’s author Laurel Snyder advises students that…

“…for much of history, kids got left out of most storytelling. Which means that what we know about the children of the past are mostly the recollections of adults, trying to reach back in time, or to guess about the thoughts and feelings of the children around them.  But of course, most grownups see the world differently from kids, and that is why it’s so important that you record your voice. Tell your story. So that in ten or twenty or a hundred or a thousand years, people will be able to look back and know what it was like in the Pandemic of 2020, for someone like you.  What it was really like.

Beyond that, write about the things this moment is decidedly NOT. Write about the places it takes you in your dreams at night, your imaginary games, your flights of fancy. Build worlds of your own, invent people to talk to. Reach beyond your current moment, and down deep into what you have always carried inside yourself. The physical limitations of this pandemic have no power over your imagination, where you can wander anywhere you like.

Laurel Snyder, Author Spotlight, Two Writing Teachers

And didn’t Savannah do exactly what Snyder suggests? She built a world of her own and invented people to talk to. Yes, she reached beyond the current moment. With her journal, Savannah indeed exemplifies Snyder’s notion that the corona virus has no power over her imagination.

Receiving this jewel of a journal in my homework inbox last week was a real day brightener, and I just wanted to share it with you. It’s a reminder that our students can still thrive in these uncertain times.


Thanks for reading again this week! Have your students ever just totally surprised you with their inventiveness? Have they ever taken one of your assignments and took it to new levels you hadn’t dreamed of? Feel free to share your experiences below to let us know about it. Also, leave a like and become a follower for more posts like this one.

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

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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

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: A nonfiction contender for 2020-21

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Thinking ahead to new class sets for next year

Nonfiction is definitely my thing. Yes, I love novels and short stories, but nonfiction really captivates me. And I guess it’s because I truly believe that life is stranger than fiction. As a result, I’m starting to consider which nonfiction books I’d like to requisition for 2020-2021.

Here are my top three nonfiction choices (as of today, but let’s be real, this may change over the next month or so): Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Written by Himself, and Manhunt by James Swanson.  In this post, I discuss Outliers.

Pictured above, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, presents an honest look at success and how it is achieved. I’m reading about six pages at a time to my elective composition class as a starter activity. My plan is to read through chapter two, and then assess whether to order for next year.

Malcolm_Gladwell_2014_(cropped)
PEN American Center [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
 

My students, mainly juniors and seniors, are engaged with the ideas in the book. Based on their written responses to some text-based questions, I know they are not only engaged, but are absorbing, considering, and applying the ideas.

Here are a few interesting lines from the 285-page book:

“In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”

Gladwell presents the arresting argument that success has less to do with ambition and intelligence and more to do with culture, family, and one’s upbringing. In the first chapters, by examining the birth dates of Canadian hockey players, Gladwell shows readers proof that there is more to success than hard work and talent.

These concepts caught a few of my students off guard quite honestly, and it goes against many extolled views about success.

The book is divided into two sections:

  • Part One: Opportunity
  • Part Two: Legacy

Within these two parts, Gladwell discusses commonly held beliefs about success and then follows that up with specific stories of outliers… “people whose achievements fall outside normal experience,” according to the back cover copy.

In addition to a reading guide and nine discussion questions in the back of the book, there are several Outliers products on Teachers Pay Teachers that I may or may not utilize. I would like to create some of my own materials for this book, but that will obviously happen after I make my decision to order it or not.

And, of course, the jury’s still out on Outliers; however, I’m thinking I’ll probably give this book the go-ahead next month when we start filling out those precious requisition forms.

Have you ever taught Outliers? Thoughts? Suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment!


Thanks for reading again this week! I’ll be focusing on Douglass and Manhunt in some upcoming posts. And, of course, I also plan to requisition some new fiction. I’ll post soon on those as well. Follow my blog to catch these future posts!

A Christmas Memo: Madeline, Me, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame

This Christmas, for the first time in more than 200 years, Christmas Mass will not be held at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Since last April’s fire, services at the famous cathedral have been held at the Eglise Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, a church near the Louvre. This week, I’ve decided to reblog a post I wrote last spring; this post originally appeared on my travel site, http://www.marilynyung.wordpress.com.

I wrote the post below the week after the cathedral fire last spring; it pays tribute to the children’s book, Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans. By the way, I still have not located the copy of the book mentioned in the post. Darn.

Thanks for reading! If you’re a Madeline fan, please leave a comment!

Marilyn Yung

The classic children’s book caused me to feel and understand the tragedy of the fire when I wouldn’t have otherwise

Bedtime_story_-_MadelinePhoto: Ldorfman; Ldorfman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D I don’t possess any personal connection to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I’ve never even been to the City of Light. I don’t have a selfie to post or a brochure or keychain from the grand gothic masterpiece that was nearly destroyed by fire last week.

I do, however, have a copy of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, the classic 1939 children’s book, somewhere in our house.

At least, the book supposed to be here. I vaguely remember stowing it away in a box several years back in the attic for safe-keeping with other beloved and well-worn children’s books my daughter and son read with me in recliners and on couches some twenty years ago.

1_BAHbc0E3F_FWOxEYeknDTAPhoto: Unsplash

It was a sweet…

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