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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching transitions in writing, part 2

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Photo by Sam Carter on Unsplash

This student-written essay illustrates transition ideas

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how the nonfiction author James Swanson’ transitions from paragraph and from chapter to chapter in his nonfiction narrative Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. The post discussed transitions words (such as therefore, however, in contrast, nonetheless, and others) that we all know and love and teach. However, the post also discussed a more subtle form of transition… transition ideas. Read that post here. 

Below, I’ve shown a student-written example of  the same primary technique, repetition, that Swanson used to carry the reader from one paragraph of her text to the next.

This student’s term that she chose to guide the reader through her essay was “moving on.” In the photo below, I’ve underlined the five times that the writer repeated the words “moving on” or “move on.”

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In the photo above, I’ve underlined in red the repetition of key words a student used in her personal essay about how she learned resilience and perseverance amid negative circumstances. 

The student told me that she didn’t realize she was using repetition to create her transition ideas. Once I called her attention to it, however, she could see how using those words could help a reader navigate her argument’s reasoning and follow her ideas from one paragraph to the next.

We also discussed how repetition can backfire because it’s possible to overuse words and phrases in a piece of writing.

How to tell the difference?

It’s often a judgment call… a judgment call that requires lots of reading and re-reading (especially aloud!) to determine whether the repetition connects ideas and builds the argument, forming a continuous thread through the piece or merely distracts the reader, pulling them away from the argument.

It’s fun to see students making effective moves in their writing, especially when it comes to writing transitions and working hard to make their ideas carry through a piece smoothly, seamlessly, and unobtrusively.

I’ll have a few more examples to show you in a future post or two. Become a follower to catch that post!


Thanks for reading! How do you teach transitions? It’s one of the more challenging aspects of the craft. Feel free to leave a comment with your experiences and thoughts on the subject.

 

Dear Teachers: The Church of Scientology is one click away from your students

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My laptop screen that shows the Youth for Human Rights curriculum sign-up form.

Be careful: the church’s Youth for Human Rights lessons are now available online.

 

A lot can happen in two years.

Two years ago, I wrote on Medium.com about a variety of educational materials offered by Youth for Human Rights International, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based human rights advocacy group. Back then, after doing some quick online research, I discovered that Youth for Human Rights International is actually a front organization of the Church of Scientology.

Note: In this story, I have intentionally omitted links to websites owned by the Church of Scientology or its front organization; however, here’s the link to the article I wrote two years ago: Dear Parents: Scientology Wants to Get Inside Your Child’s Classroom

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Read this story on Medium.com here.

Recently, I checked back on the Youth for Human Rights website to see if it was still there, and if so, I wondered if it still offered the same materials and other propaganda extolling the virtues of the organization and its questionable humanitarian work.

What did I find?

A full online course. An app. A teacher dashboard so teachers can monitor student progress in the course.

Instead of sending away for the printed materials I wrote about two years ago, teachers can now instantly open an account, register as a teacher, and enroll their students to deliver human rights content from the Church of Scientology.

But don’t.

And don’t order the printed materials either.

Despite lots of United Nations name-dropping, the Church of Scientology has no business proclaiming itself as a human rights leader.

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United Nations, New York City | Photo: Pixabay

After all, there are several human rights that the Church of Scientology policies violate, which discredit its claim of being a leader in the field. I’m not an expert on the Church of Scientology, but if one reads even a moderate amount on this so-called religion, you’ll discover many questionable, unethical activities.

For now, here are three that I’m aware of: 1) the cult’s Rehabilitation Project Force, a forced-labor camp where cult followers are imprisoned to perform hard labor to compensate for violations they have allegedly committed; 2) the cult’s disconnection policy, which requires followers to separate themselves from friends and family members who criticize the Church of Scientology, and 3) the documented charges of physical violence and assault by David Miscavige, the church’s “ecclesiastical leader,” and other higher-ups.

Teachers beware: The Church of Scientology doesn’t make it obvious that it’s the force behind Youth for Human Rights International. Visit the YHRI website and you’ll find no connection to Scientology; however, visit Scientology.org and you’ll find numerous mentions of YHRI, its partner front United for Human Rights, and a heavy dose of grandiose language extolling the progress being made globally to advance human rights.

To be honest, human rights violations or not, when a cult is making inroads into American schools – even to promote an innocuous and noble cause – it’s unacceptable and dangerous.

In addition, providing a way for students to sign up for a Church of Scientology online human rights course is even more disturbing.

Despite negative publicity accrued over a few seasons of Scientology and The Aftermath, the Church of Scientology and its myriad front organizations are still operating.

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The Church of Scientology’s attempts – including its new online course – to provide a curriculum to schools and to sign up students online is underhanded and dishonest… not qualities I would expect from an organization supposedly dedicated to the advancement of human rights around the world.


I keep tabs on the Church of Scientology and how it attempts to connect with classrooms. Thanks for reading again this week. And please let me know via email (marilynyung@gmail.com) if you are ever contacted by the Church of Scientology or its front organizations. I still receive emails from their offices regularly regarding their human rights curriculum.

 

 

Don’t give up on improving your students’ vocabulary skills

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Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Stick with your plan; give your lessons time to work

 

I recently designed some daily bell-ringer activities to teach my students some new vocabulary words. To create these on-going brief lessons, I continue to use Vocab Gal’s “Power Words of the Week” from Sadlier’s ELA Blog, and “Vocabulary Words of the Day” from Prestwick House.

One way teachers can build a word-rich environment in the classroom is by spotlighting a weekly vocabulary word. Use my vocabulary Power Word of the Week to ensure vocabulary instruction occurs daily in your classroom!
This is an example of the Vocab Gal’s Power Word of the Week slides. I copy each image into a PowerPoint and leave it on the SMART Board while we do the various activities explained in this post.

Words we’ve recently learned include the following:

  • paragon
  • perpetuate
  • aloof
  • virtuoso
  • gossamer
  • fend
  • inimitable
  • pejorative

Read this post to learn about the specific activities we use to explore each word.

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Even though these images from Prestwick House suggest using them daily, I use the same word for a full week. I think that helps kids learn the words more effectively.

At times over the past seven to eight weeks,

I’ve wondered whether my vocab activities are becoming a little

stale. A little repetitive. Yawn-inducing. 

And then over the weekend, as I reviewed second drafts of writing projects that students had turned in during writer’s workshop last week, I noticed two students had used the word “inimitable.” Do you know (of course, you do!) how gratifying it was to see my students using words they had recently acquired as a result of my “repetitive” vocabulary lessons?

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A student used the word inimitable in her Treasured Object poem.

I guess repetition has its merits, after all.

It’s easy to doubt myself. I do it a lot. My self-doubt has, at times, caused me to alter my teaching when I’ve suspected it wasn’t working. My self-doubt has, at times, even caused me to discontinue a particular unit or strategy.

And to be honest, I had thought about pushing the pause button on these vocabulary lessons. However, when I read the word “inimitable” in my students’ drafts, I changed my mind.

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Another student used the word inimitable in her personal essay.

Exposing kids to new words during a four-day week’s worth of bell-ringer activities seems to be taking hold. When kids acquire new words and then use them to express themselves in poetry or a personal essay, that’s all the confirmation I need to stick with my plan. These two students have given me enough incentive to stay with these vocab lessons and not alter or discontinue them just yet.

Are you like me in this regard? Do you question whether your vocab instruction is helping your students? Don’t assume it’s not working. Continue to expose your students to new words that will give them the precision they need to fully express their ideas in writing. Don’t give up on your vocabulary instruction. Keep with it. Persevere.



This vocabulary pep talk has been brought to you by me. Seriously, vocabulary gets short shrift; kids need to acquire an extensive vocabulary as they transition to high school and college or the workplace. What are your tried-and-true vocabulary lesson ideas? Feel free to share and then follow my blog for more reflection!