Friday Eve Photo: A Beowulf Hero’s Journey

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After completing their Beowulf unit, seniors charted the epic poem onto a Hero’s Journey poster. Following these posters, students chose a story (novel, short story, movie) to chart in a similar way, but this time using Google Slide Presentations.  With college and careers on the horizon, this project was quite likely the last time they would break out the markers and glue sticks to show their learning. That’s kinda sad, honestly.

Five articles to pair with The Old Man and the Sea

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Image by skeeze on pixabay.com.

These articles are intended to round out the ideas presented by the novella

This winter, my junior English students have just finished reading The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and are beginning to develop their cumulative essays on the novella. To prepare for that, and to build more background knowledge about the novel and Ernest Hemingway, last week students broke into groups and read one article.

After reading the article as a group (however they wanted to accomplish the reading — whether one person read the entire article or each took turns — was fine with me), they gave a short presentation to the rest of their class and discussed the four to five major points or ideas their respective article discussed.

It was a “jigsaw” style of reading the articles. My hope is that students will find the articles helpful as they determine and then develop their individual topics for their essays, which require the novel plus one other source to reference.

Here are links to the articles I gave to each group:

This article, the shortest one of the five, discusses common (almost stereotypical???) themes of masculinity and how those are woven into the book.

This article finds that hope and perseverance to attain that hope is the primary theme Hemingway addressed in the novel.

Fassler focuses on the recurring motif of the lions on the beach laced throughout the book. What do these memories mean to Santiago? This article interestingly dwells on the idea of memory and how our earliest memories never really leave us throughout our lives.

Reimann brings up five points of discussion in this article. The most intriguing one to me was that “some things are meant to remain a mystery.” In the book, Santiago debates the idea of whether killing the marlin was a sin or not. In fact, Hemingway never resolves this issue for the reader and this question is one that remains with the reader long after finishing the book. I like how Reimann gives validity to the idea that authors aren’t required to tie up all the loose ends in their work. Sometimes bringing these questions to light is enough.

This is actually Chapter 14 from the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, a fun read that examines literary techniques and quandaries (such as the prevalence of implied symbolism) in an easy-to-read style.  This is the longest article; give it to your most advanced readers. The book discusses scenes from the book that are highly symbolic. Students will get the author’s point that symbolism, while highly subjective can also be quite obviously implied by authors. What readers do with those symbols is what makes reading fun, spiritually challenging, and most of all, an individualized experience.

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Our presentations on these articles were informal and I required that listeners take notes on the four to five major points that each group discussed about their article. I wanted them to write enough notes to be familiar with each text in, so the articles could be accessed later as students delve into their chosen topics more deeply.


Thanks for reading again this week! I’ll keep you posted on their The Old Man and the Sea culminating essays. With all the recent snow days, it has taken us longer than I initially planned to finish this short novella. Up next: more Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Frost.

Do you have any ideas for other articles to pair with The Old Man and the Sea? If so, please leave a comment and share your ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

Slice of life writing: here’s a mentor text for high school students

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Slice of life essays written by elementary students are everywhere; high school slices are harder to find. Here’s one.

Last fall, near the beginning of the school year, I introduced my high school juniors and seniors to slice of life writing. Slices are short narratives that celebrate the ordinary moments in our lives that we may often overlook as worthy of documenting.

To read my post from September about how my students approached Slice of Life writing, click here.

By the way, I learned about slice-of-life writing from this inspirational group of writer-teachers. Teachers write and post their own slices on Tuesdays at this site. For information about this group’s Slice of Life Writing Challenge for classrooms, visit here.

Slice of life writing has few guidelines. Writing a slice is largely a way for students to merge narrative writing with autobiography. Writing slices helps students, especially those who don’t enjoy writing, experience some success within the confines of an essay that runs around 250 words.

Here are the main guidelines that I use when introducing high school students to slice of life writing:

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If your students need a word count,

ask them to shoot for 250-300 words.

I also provide mentor texts so students can read examples of the moments that slice of life writing is intended to document. Because this is my first year teaching at the high school level, I didn’t have any examples written by secondary students; all my examples were written by students at my previous middle school position.

And let’s face it, middle school is middle school.

High school students definitely have more mature concerns, goals, and preoccupations. After all, college and career is on the horizon, social relationships deepen, and many students have jobs.

As a result, I decided to share with you a slice written by Kenna, one of my high school juniors. Feel free to use this as an example when you introduce your own older students to slicing. I especially like this slice because it’s very visual and takes its own sweet time to record an activity that many, if not most, girls can identify with. Curling one’s hair is an oft-repeated task that, while mundane, can come alive when approached creatively.

By the way, this was a third draft that she completed during our Writer’s Workshop weeks last fall. It was nice to see her slice improve gradually over three drafts.

Golden Perfection by Kenna D.

“My hair is long, golden and shiny. It flows through my fingers like the flow of a summer breeze. My hair is flat, and fairly straight. It almost looks like it would be stiff…until you run your fingers through it, and until I decide to style it. When you see it, you can already imagine without touching it, that it is soft and silky like a fleece blanket. 

As the curling iron heats up on the bathroom counter, I look in the mirror to see how all of the lights are aiming down on my hair. They are making it shine like a star in the night sky.

I begin to curl my hair. The beautiful, golden caramel colors, heating up and twisting around and around the hot iron. As the iron gets close to my head, I can feel the heat, beaming off of the iron. It reminds me of the warmth of a fireplace on a cold, snowy winter morning. 

 Ten seconds, twenty seconds, I hold the golden swirl of hair around the iron, and wait for it to give the golden swirl that perfect spiral shape. Thirty seconds pass by and it’s time to release  the hair. I gently let it unravel itself from the iron. Almost as if it’s in slow motion, my hair falls. For a moment I wonder: Is it really going to curl? Will I have to redo this piece of hair?

Fortunately, the golden spiral coils. I stare back at myself in the mirror to see this beautiful, golden swirl of perfection.

I repeat this over and over again. Little pieces of hair at a time. Until every single piece of my hair is curled into a perfect, bouncy coil.

But wait, here’s the plot twist, I’m not a very “girly” girl. After all that work, I end up putting it up into a ponytail of golden, caramel swirls.”

Wasn’t that an awesome slice of life? For a link to a Google Doc file of this slice, click here: Golden Perfection Slice of Life.

I sat up in my chair as I read it, mesmerized by how Kenna zoomed in on a seemingly boring activity and made it come alive with sensory imagery. I loved seeing the “mind movie” as I read.

In addition, Kenna gave us a glimpse into her personality.

Who of us hasn’t put on our best clothes, or spent a lot of time on our hair, only to abandon it all to throw on a pair of jeans or opt for a ponytail instead?


Thanks for reading again this week! I’ll be adding more high school slice of life essays to my blog over the next few weeks. Follow my blog to catch those mentor texts!

Treasured Object Poems: A favorite poetry activity for all grades

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Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

In this post: Treasured Object Poems mentor texts and lesson tips

Need a fun poetry activity to use with your students? One that will also hone their sensory language and revision skills?

Show them how to write a short free-verse poem about an object they value. Paying tribute to a precious personal item encourages them to think positively about their lives and builds their creative writing skills.

After you first explain the poem, if your students are like mine, one of the very first responses you’ll hear is, “But I don’t have anything that I treasure.”

When that happens, I elaborate. I ask them,

“Okay, if the fire alarm in your house went off, and you had to get out NOW, what two or three things would you grab?”

One of these things might be the perfect thing for a Treasured Object Poem.

To get started, hold a conversation to get students talking about their favorite things. Students of mine have written about a necklace from Grandma, their turquoise Converse, a pocket watch, a fishing rod, a book, a special hoodie, and more.

To help them get ideas, I also provide mentor texts former students have written.

 

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This is the handout for the Treasured Object Poem project. This handout is kept in a manila folder in the rack of writing projects that students complete during our Writer’s Workshop.

 

This year, I wrote my own Treasured Object poem and shared it with my classes. I donned my awesome ’90s vintage bomber jacket, and read the following example: 

My ’90s Bomber Jacket

Thick and heavy, warm and supple

Chocolate brown leather, a world map lining

Four pockets to hold:

Gloves, change, Kleenexes, icy fingers.

Oversized,

It clothes me in comfort

Distressed,

It encloses me in memories from

Years of travel from

Minnesota to Maine,

Vermont to Florida.

Oregon to Kansas.

My trendy friend found years ago

In a Phoenix boutique

Is now classic outerwear and

Perfect for…

Ever.

 

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I couldn’t resist showing you my jacket. It’s exactly thirty years old this year!

 

Here’s a student-written example of a Treasured Object Poem:

My Old Turquoise Converse by Hailey B.

My old turquoise Converse,

tarnished with dust and dirt.

My old turquoise Converse,

laced with well-worn shoestrings.

Oh, how my old turquoise Converse

are embedded with memories.

The memories they hold include

meeting a special friend and

having rotten days.

My old turquoise Converse,

walked in only by me.

*****

Here’s another:

The Piano by Elijah D.

The piano’s mahogany stained legs stand

Arching over the flat worn pew.

Graceful as the tree it was separated from.

The shimmering finish of the basswood keys glistens.

A mild hiatus, waiting to be played by skilled hands

Keys sheltered until then.

Though, piano is my forte.

Hammers drawn crisply.

Strings unfrayed for their age.

The contrivance gives a beautiful melody, however untuned.

Dust mustn’t settle on the antiqued surface.

The high, console style backing draped in cloth.

Complemented by family photos in elegant frames.

Thoughts of my grandmother come to mind,

As it was her’s at one time.

But now, it is mine to own.

*****

And even though I encourage students to write a free verse poem, occasionally, a student will use rhyme. And that’s fine with me as long as it’s not forced. Here’s one of those:

The Rocking Horse by Devyn R.

Rocking horse, rocking horse, take me away

To faraway places and spaces to play

Farther and farther I knew we went

Across the kitchen and through the vent

Over the hills, galloping we go

When we’ll stop, I’ll never know

Back and back, my head’s in a spin

Nobody else knows the spin that I am in

Taking me places I’ve never been

As high as a bird, as fast as a fish

In the clouds, through the ocean, anywhere I wish

*****

Three ways to beef up this activity

1. Try this revision strategy:

Adding more sensory language will help these poems come to life. After first drafts have been written, have students take their poems and add:

  • one fragrance or smell
  • one sound
  • one texture
  • one taste or flavor

2. Guide your students away from these treasured object ideas:

  • Game systems, phones, and other screens… Honestly, students give enough attention to their screens. I tell students that they’ll have more success with an object that’s tangible. In other words, it’s important to be able to touch or physically experience their object. However, sometimes I give in and let them attempt a poem about their PS4, for example, so they can learn on their own that video games and virtual realities are difficult to describe with physical terms. When they invariably struggle to add sensory language to their poem, they usually change their mind on their own to something that invariably has more poetry potential.
  • Food…There’s always one student who will want to write about a food, as in “But I treasure pizza, Mrs. Yung!”  But unfortunately, such a temporal item will make their Treasured Object Poem feel insignificant. Encourage them to focus on something permanent and precious. Food disappears too quickly to deserve a poem.

3. Enter these poems in a contest.

In fact, on the handout in the photo above (it was used with my middle school students in my previous teaching position), you can see that my students limited their poems to twenty lines. This limit was placed so the students could enter their poems in Creative Communication’s Poetry Contests.  Read my blog post about this publisher here.

I hope you enjoy sharing this poetry idea with your kids. It’s always been a favorite with my own students. In addition, it’s a poem they can return to again and again as they think of other objects they treasure. Most of my students, even my high school students, surprise themselves with how much they like their final product.


Thanks for reading again this week! If you try this in your classes, feel free to let me know in the comments how it goes or drop me an email in the “Contact” menu.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes poetry can teach better than I can

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Take word choice, for example

Last December, when I read a student’s second draft of their Treasured Object poem and saw that it contained the word “get” four times, I thought Really? Get? Four times? 

It surprised me because I thought I had taught not only sentence variety, but word variety as well. It’s good to vary our words. Yes, a writer can repeat certain words in order to:

However, many times using the same word repeatedly —- especially a vague one like “get” — is simply a sign of lazy writing.

Here’s the second draft that a student turned in during our fall writer’s workshop:

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“Get” is a weak, vague verb as it is. And then to have four in the same short poem! Arghghgh!

In our writer’s workshop process, I simply make a few suggestions for revisions and edits on a student’s second draft. I address the most glaring issue that will help the writer improve for his or her third (and usually final) draft. In this case, the most glaring issue was the overuse of  “get.”

I circled the four “gets” and in the margins, I wrote “Replace weak verbs.” When I returned it to the student, we talked briefly. I suggested his poem would be stronger with a variety of powerful verbs mainly because the reader wouldn’t be distracted and pulled out of the poem by all the “gets.”

Here’s the student’s third and final draft:

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The poem is much stronger, don’t you think?

Sometimes it just takes a little more time to think of a better word. 

I also wondered to myself how this poem was the student’s second draft. How did the student who gave him feedback on his first draft not catch this obvious issue? Lazy editing?

Probably, I thought, acknowledging that enabling students to provide effective feedback is still one area in my high school writer’s workshop process that needs improvement.

This poem allowed a quick fix for a common problem. And it caused the unnecessary repetition to be readily recognized and quickly and effectively repaired. This is yet another reason I like teaching poetry. It truly does teach some concepts more efficiently than I can.


Thanks for reading again this week! How is your poetry practice? Do you encourage and/or assign students to write poems? Do tell. And by the way, my next post will focus on the “Treasured Object” poem. I love this easy-to-write poem that allows students to get personal and write about a belonging they wouldn’t part with for the world. Follow my blog to catch my next post!

 

 

 

New Year, New Units: Beowulf and The Old Man and the Sea

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The British Lit textbook my school uses alongside Hemingway’s book.

Lots of planning comin’ up!

Now that the new year has started, I thought I would write a short post about the units I’m starting with my juniors and seniors next week.

My junior classes will begin Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea on Wednesday  and my senior classes will start Beowulf on the same day. (In addition, my Composition class will begin brainstorming ideas for their I-Search papers on the same day, while my Novels classes begin their independent reading books.)

 

These lit units are the first ones of the school year for both grades. Last fall, we wrote memoirs, poetry, short story analysis essays, and a variety of pieces for Writer’s Workshop.  We also wrote poetry and entered writing contests, such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

Of course, we also read. Between nonfiction articles for Article of the Week assignments and various books we “tasted” on First Chapter Fridays, we did expose ourselves to new reading. Still, in-depth and extended study of selected literature was not on the menu.

Until now.

I’m excited to experience these literature studies with my students. I’ve read The Old Man and the Sea before, but not Beowulf. And to be honest, I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t read this foundational text before. In fact, I’m not sure how I missed reading it until now.

I’m fairly well prepared to get started with these new units, but at the same time, I know that teaching them will be challenging and probably dominate my planning time.

For me, tackling anything new in teaching requires patience, planning, and an expectation that for these first attempts, I’ll be learning right alongside my students. I’ll be…

  • exploring new vocabulary
  • answering study questions
  • designing writing projects
  • creating summative assessments, and
  • planning cumulative activities.

It’s quite a handful to create daily lessons for two new texts. Compound that with the fact that at my small rural high school, I’m the only English teacher for juniors and seniors.  That has its positives (I have autonomy and choice when planning), but it also has its negatives. For example, while I do have a general curriculum to follow, I do not have unit specific materials beyond the textbooks and novels.

As such, I’ll be creating and designing lessons as I go. Thank goodness for ready-made unit plans, which provide me a basic framework that I can tweak and adjust for the future.

I’ll update you on how these new units progress in some future posts.


Thanks for reading again this week! What are you gearing up for now that the holidays are over? Feel free to leave a comment and follow my blog to catch those follow-up posts.