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.
I have a black-and-white poster of The Outsidersin my classroom. One year, I decided to photocopy my picture, cut off my head, and snuggle it in between Darry and Steve. And then I laminated it, so it’s never comin’ off! My students don’t always notice it right away, but when they do, they crack up to see me with the Greasers.
Obviously, you can tell I love The Outsiders. So imagine my excitement when I found out just yesterday that a new museum, located at the bungalow-style house where author S. E. Hinton’s Curtis brothers lived in the 1983 movie The Outsiders, will open in late summer or early fall!
The Outsiders House Museum is located at 731 N. St. Louis Ave. and will be open by appointment 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Owned by House of Pain hip-hop artist, Danny O’Connor, construction crews have spent several months restoring and preparing the house for its new life. Inside, visitors will tour the house, see book and movie memorabilia, and browse a retail shop for serious fans, of which there are thousands… including every single student at my middle school.
Seriously, what is it about students and The Outsiders? I asked teachers this question: Do you still teach The Outsiders and why? Here are some of those teachers’ comments, including several that shared content areas they address with the novel.
“Yes, because it is a classic and because we have the opportunity to discuss tolerance, stereotypes, and other points of view.”
“Because I can teach all the elements of fiction, character development and nearly all figurative language with this read that every student can relate to their own lives and how they treat others no matter what side of town they are from.”
“Yes, because my students LOVE it. I was thinking of giving it a rest, but the majority told me it was their favorite book this year, and when a book touches kids like that, I have to keep it in the repertoire.”
“Absolutely! We really focus on symbolism of eye colors, colors of hair, and numbers. Characterization done by a biased point-of-view. And stereotypes.”
“The last few pages are well-written, especially when Pony has his epiphany that he can be the voice for the voiceless. That idea is powerful, and this coming year I want to do a project connected to that idea.”
“I found that kids of all cultures could relate to it. The last time I taught it, I was at an all-girls school, and I liked the fact that it was (written by) a female author. We also did a writing project in which my students rewrote a scene from the book as if all the main characters were girls.”
“I moved to a new school in a new state and hadn’t taught The Outsiders since 1995. I was absolutely AMAZED how it spoke to my 7th graders in 2018. They were engaged from page one and did a wonderful job discussing the themes in the novel: empathy, peer pressure, socio-economic pressure, the concept of family. Most exciting to me, I believe for about ten or so students, this was THE book, the one that caused them to see themselves as readers. My heart melted to watch this happen.”
“It has become iconic. The references to the novel appear all over in pop culture. Stay Golden is what we want for all.”
“Yes. My 7th graders love it! Students who have shown no interest in reading will finish the book before the class. They become invested in the characters and show true empathy.”
“I have been teaching this to my 8th graders for nine years. EVERY year we start out with eye-rolls and “This book is sooooo old!” And EVERY year we finish reading the last chapter out loud together and—without prompting—they ALL say that last line TOGETHER. I swear I tear up EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.”
So even though the book was first published 51 years ago and the movie came out 35 years ago (can you believe it?!), The Outsiders is still a winner. If you don’t teach The Outsiders, think about doing so for next year. There’s a wealth of lessons and unit plans available for you to adapt to your teaching style and curriculum. If you already teach The Outsiders… well—all together now—Stay Gold.
Click like and leave a comment to share your experience with The Outsiders. And it’s okay to have a different opinion, since some teachers just don’t care for it. Share your ideas either way!
This “new to me” book will be fun to try this fall
A year or two ago, I found an effective paragraph that explained sentence variety perfectly. Read the post about it here. I dug a little deeper about the author and eventually made my way to this book, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, by Gary Provost. Gary Provost was an author and writing instructor who died in 1995 right in the middle of his career. In addition to his own books and articles, he produced a series of how-to writing books and seminars.
I ordered 100 Ways from Amazon last week and, after skimming through it, know I’ll be able to use several chapters in my language arts classes next year. I hope these short readings and the discussions they spark will make great mini-lessons to kick off a writing work day.
The book is divided into eleven chapters. Here are a few of them followed by one or two points discussed within each:
Five Ways to Write a Strong Beginning (Find a Slant, Set a Tone and Maintain It)
Twelve Ways to Give Your Words Power (Use Active Verbs, Be Specific, Use Statistics)
Ten Ways to Avoid Grammatical Errors (Do Not Change Tenses, Avoid Dangling Modifiers)
Six Ways to Avoid Punctuation Errors (How to Use Colons, Semicolons, Quotation Marks)
Twelve Ways to Avoid Making Your Reader Hate You (Avoid Clichés, Avoid Parentheses)
Seven Ways to Edit Yourself (Read Your Work Out Loud, Use Common Sense)
Nine Ways to Save Time and Energy (Use Transitions, Avoid Wordiness)
While the 158-page book deals with more technical topics, such as punctuation and grammar, the author also discusses the finer, more esoteric qualities of good writing. For example, in “Stop Writing When You Get to the End,” Provost writes,
When you have done what you came to do, stop. Do not linger at the door saying good-bye sixteen times.
How do you know when you have finished? Look at the last sentence and ask yourself, “What does the reader lose if I cross it out?” If the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know,” then cross it out. Do the same thing with the next to last sentence, and so forth. When you get to the sentence that you must have, read it out loud. Is it a good closing sentence? Does it sound final? Is it pleasant to the ear? Does it leave the reader in the mood you intended? If so, you are done. If not, rewrite it so that it does. Then stop writing.
I like the tone of Provost’s writing. Concise. Clear. Practical. Warm. It’s an easy, friendly read, and has its share of funny writing snippets.
In addition, many chapters contain side-by-side examples of ineffective and effective writing. For instance, in the chapter entitled “Be Specific,” several examples of general and vague writing appear on the left-hand side across from their more specific counterpart on the right-hand side. Here’s one: The general “Various ethnic groups have settled in Worcester,” is shown alongside its more specific “Greeks, Italians, and Puerto Ricans have settled in Worcester.”
The book has a copyright date of 1972, so some of the examples used are outdated. I’ll just explain this to the kids, or pause while we read to explain obsolete terms. One I noticed was “word processing.” That term just isn’t used much anymore.
Some of the chapters overlap with existing lessons I already use; however, it never hurts to review the same concepts in different ways. This book will enable me to do that.
Check out this book by buying a single copy. I purchased a used copy on Amazon for about five dollars. That’s an inexpensive price for a potentially valuable new resource. Maybe a class set will be in my future.
Thanks for reading! Click like to help other readers find this post. Follow me for more similar articles on teaching middle school language arts.
I get it. The school year has just ended and the last thing you may want to think about right now is what you will be doing in September in your classes. However, discussing 9/11 effectively deserves forethought and preparation to match the motivation and curiosity that students bring to the table.
Despite this motivation, for many students 9/11 is as remote for them as Kennedy’s assassination was to me (I was born two years later JFK was killed). Students may not be aware that 9/11 was an international event with numerous long-lasting effects: changes in security, warfare, immigration, architecture, travel. So it’s a given that 9/11 should be covered, but let’s be honest, the anniversary of the horrible event arrives so quickly after the school year starts that one really needs to have one’s plan in place to present and discuss the terror attacks adequately.
That being said, please know this: I am no expert on September 11 or how to present it to students. However, I thought I’d share with you a few resources I keep in my classroom.
Understanding September 11 by Mitch Frank, is arranged into chapters entitled with questions such as Who were the hijackers? and Why did we go after Afghanistan? Published in 2002, the book has become outdated in some ways; it was published before bin Laden was killed, for example. Its frank discussions about the most basic aspects of the attacks and terrorism in general are still important.
A Place of Remembrance, The Official Book of the National September 11 Memorial by Allison Blais and Lynn Rasic, focuses on the memorial and museum complex built to commemorate the tragedy. Published by National Geographic, the book contains many photos of artifacts, profiles of those involved with the museum project, and information about the memorial plaza design as well. I only have two copies of the 2011 edition of the book in my room. It is mainly used individually by students who want to know more. Also: an updated 2015 edition is available, but I have not used it.
The Building of Manhattan by Donald Mackay has a section about the World Trade Center’s history, including construction challenges, size, and its occupants. Mackay’s distinctive pen and ink illustrations give this book broad appeal
Choose carefully what you would like to read to your students as this book includes first-person accounts from survivors. Excerpts of this book reveal the terror of those who survived the tower attacks.
“Doomed to Re-Repeat History: The Triangle Fire, The World Trade Center Attack, and the Importance of Strong Building Codes.” This is actually a book review by Gregory Stein of two books, David Von Drehle’s Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, and 102 Minutes. The review discusses the two books individually, connects them with a discussion on “The Ebb and Flow of Building Codes,” and concludes with a discussion of safety and security and their costs and risks. “It is up to us to decide how much we are willing to pay to live in a sensibly safer world,” Stein writes. This book review prompts some meaty discussions with my students. By invoking the Triangle Fire, it brings up the idea of how the passage of time causes us to forget what we have learned from our previous mistakes.
To Engineer is Humanby Henry Petroski: I’ve used bits and pieces of this book on numerous occasions and it ties in with my 9/11 unit because it contains excerpts from The Hammurabi Code, which is discussed in the above book review.
The Walk: The Triumphant True Story directed by Robert Zemeckis, this feature film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and tells the story of Philippe Petit, the high wire artist who walked between the two towers in 1974. Just as Petit helped New Yorkers appreciate and grow to love the towers, this movie helps students connect to the towers and the tragedy that later happened.
What I value about this film is that it enables students to experience and personally connect with the towers — and the people who lived and worked there — through shots of the exteriors, lobbies, offices, elevators, receiving areas, the North Tower observation deck, and Austin Tobin Plaza.
My kids LOVE this movie. I show it to my sixth-graders at the end of the year. It’s a good way to introduce students to the Twin Towers and city without the context of 9/11. You cannot go wrong with showing this film. My students always ask to watch it again! The film is rated PG; there are three to four uses of profanity. Length: 123 minutes.
My eighth-graders are riveted to every minute of this important film. The documentary eloquently conveys the horror of the day, including the responses of New York City, the nation, and the world. Even though it has a TV-PG rating (and therefore doesn’t require a permission slip, per my school’s policy), I send a permission slip home anyway for parents to sign. The movie has some disturbing scenes, including people jumping from the towers.
The film also recognizes that, although our collective soul was irrevocably altered in the span of a few hours, the United States of America will prevail. It’s my hope that this excellent film relates better than I can that September 11 is relevant and important, not merely “historical”… in the distant past of my students’ minds. Read this post from my sister blog for more on this idea.
There you have it. These are the various materials I use to engage my students in writing about 9/11. Even though I use these every year, I am always on the lookout for new resources. If and when I find any additional ideas, I’ll write another post to let you know.
With each passing year, I feel that the memories of this horrible day are fading more and more into the distant past. It’s important that we keep alive the memory of what was lost on that day.
Thanks for reading. If you have a minute, leave a comment to share your own ideas and resources.
It’s a Project-Based Learning partnership with White River Valley Historical Society
The October-November 2017 issue of WRVHS Whippersnappers was published a few weeks ago! My seventh-grade students wrote all the content for the issue using online archived articles from the White River Valley History Society Quarterly magazine as their research. They designed the content around Halloween and the fall season.
About half of the students wrote for the first issue; the rest are writing for the second issue that prints in December. After the Christmas break, students will return and begin designing and writing content for the February and April issues.
I appreciate the help and support of Leslie Wyman, managing director, and Dusty Ingenthron, webmaster, at the WRVHS. Their enthusiasm and cooperation have allowed me to bring this Project-Based Learning idea to fruition for my seventh-graders!
Click here for a previous post about how this idea got started.
I attended Branson Tech Institute, an educational technology conference, July 17-18 at Branson High School. The Branson School District extended invitations to attend the conference to area schools, including my district, Kirbyville R-VI. (Thanks to my district for paying my registration fee!)
About a dozen different classes were offered during each of nine sessions. Classes were categorized into grade level and subject areas. The district also provided a single link on Google drive for the presentation materials, handouts and links from all the sessions. A gold mine! Here’s a list and brief description of the sessions I chose to attend.
Chromebook Cart Management: This was a refresher course presented by Branson faculty member Kim Good. It showed me ways to keep my own computer cart organized in my classroom. Good news! My school already does what she recommended!
Google Forms: Quizzes, Data Collection & More: Presenter and Branson teacher Courtney Brown taught the basics of Google Forms. Even though I have attended other classes on Forms, I still don’t use it regularly in my classroom. However, I feel that this will change this year. I will be having students complete one on the first or second day of school this year. I’ll use it to give me an update on students’ writing style and interests, and home Internet access.
Curating Great Resources for ELA: Presenter Melody Alms taught this course on internet resources specifically for teaching ELA. My biggest take-away: CommonLit.org, a fantastic site for fiction and nonfiction literacy resources. So much to discover!
Twitter for Beginners: Even though I have started to more actively use Twitter this summer, this session taught by Katie Kensinger taught me some basics that I just didn’t know. By the way, I only have one Twitter account (many teachers have both personal and professional accounts). My Twitter account includes shares from this blog and my personal writing blog; my profile includes links to both blogs. I only tweet about topics related to my writing and teaching.
Social Media in the Classroom: This course focused on the use of Instagram in the classroom. Branson teacher Sarah Yocum shared her private class Instagram account and procedures. Very interesting. I had toyed with this idea previously this summer based on an Instagram post made by a former student. Read about that here. As a result, I have started my own private account for my ELA classes at Kirbyville Middle School. You can see my first four posts in the sidebar of this blog. I envision posting photos for writing prompts, writing tips, class photos (with parent permission, of course).
Parents, students, and my Kirbyville colleagues may request to follow the account; however, I don’t follow anyone in return. Students must have a parental permission form signed before they can follow the account.
Because not all students have Instagram (especially in middle school), students won’t “have to have” access for assignments; the class Instagram will be supplemental. Posts that must be seen for an assignment will be on the smartboard in class or given on a handout. This will be just a new way to interact with students in a medium they are comfortable with.
EdPuzzle: This class taught about a free interactive site that allows the teacher to select a video and then edit it, thereby tailoring it to their instruction. The program also contains analytical tools to evaluate student progress and mastery. While I found this very valuable, it seemed to require more time to learn than I am willing to invest at this time.
ESL — Modified and Meaningful Instructions with Technology: This class was focused for literacy coaches and provided a wealth of information and resources that I need occasionally as I interact and teach students for whom English is their second language. I wish I had learned this material about two years ago when a Spanish-speaking student who knew no English entered my classroom. Biggest takeaway: We must provide our ESL students with the common speech alternatives to academic terms, even going so far as providing them English vocab tip sheets for them to access when doing assignments and tests. For example, there are many synonyms that are helpful to know when we talk about addition in math class. Some of these are how many altogether, sum, plus, add it up, and others.
GoFormative: This session discussed the use of this tool that evaluates learning of all students. Found at goformative.com, this site lets teachers create instant quizzes over videos and material you select to teach. I could possibly use this for reading comprehension checks and vocabulary lessons.
Green Screen and Stop Motion: Taught by Paula Bronn and Kari Houston, this class gave teachers the basics of incorporating dynamic and exciting presentation options for kids. I can see kids producing professional presentations from exotic locales (based on the images they find to project on the screen). The possibilities are really endless and it’s hard to wrap my mind around all that could be achieved with this tool. Added bonus of this session: I learned I don’t actually need a green screen. Green paper will suffice. The only hardware I would need would be an Ipad and a tripod. They even showed us how to make stop-motion videos with claymation and Lego figures. Here’s the main site I would check out first: Doink.
Poster Sessions: On Tuesday morning of the event, all sessions hosted a table in the commons area. Each attendee was given a card to have initialed by the presenter at each table. One goal of the poster sessions was to get the initials of 15 presenters to win a door prize (I won a drawstring backpack). However, the biggest goal of the poster sessions was simply to give attendees a chance to gather information on sessions that they didn’t actually take a class for, due to time constraints. Smart idea and very beneficial!
To conclude, my greatest takeaway from the entire conference is to make sure that technology propels a student’s education forward. Technology is an incredible gift, IF teachers use it intelligently, effectively and efficiently.
In other words, technology doesn’t always win against tried-and-true tools such as pen and paper, but being informed about technology’s benefits and potential uses does help me connect better with my students who have lived their entire lives surrounded by it.