Monday, March 20, 2017

Compliments to give girls that have nothing to do with their physical appearance

This post has been on my heart ever since I finished reading the shocking book, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. This is one of those books that is extremely difficult to read because of its graphic nature, but the content is too important to put down. 

As a high school teacher, I find myself wanting to stay ensconced in naivety where I can pretend that I don't know what occurs in my students' personal lives. I can view them as the innocent, sweet, and full of promise students that they are while they are sitting in the shelter of my classroom.

Nancy Sales, however, does the opposite--by painstakingly interviewing and analyzing teenage girls from Los Angles to Kentucky, she pries deep into the intimate and disturbing secret lives of modern-day American girls. The entire time I read this book, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness for the precious girls that I teach every day. I can remember feeling the pressure to look pretty in school, but for today's girls, this pressure has seeped into every hour of their day because of the constant influence of social media. 

Sales reports, "'Beautiful, 'gorgeous,' 'sexy,' 'hot' are conventional responses to selfies in the culture of social media, responses which many girls seek as they spend minutes or hours of their day preparing themselves to be photographed." 

If you happen to look at a teenager's profile, this fact above is glaringly obvious. When girls post pictures, these are the comments they are getting. When they don't post pictures, they are making these comments on their friends' photos. When they are snooping around celebrity accounts, they are seeing thousands of these comments. It's constant. They can't escape it. Moreover, this pressure of looking pretty and thinking about pretty people may also be detrimental to their education, "Apparently, thinking about being hot makes it hard to think: 'Chronic attention to physical appearance leaves fewer cognitive resources available for other mental and physical activities,' said the APA report" (qtd. in Sales). 

All of this left me wanting to take action. While I know that this issue is insurmountable, I didn't want to add to it. When my female students are seeing picture after picture and comment after comment that reinforce the idea that their self-worth is beauty, I want to be sure that I'm not adding to this pressure. When I reflected on the compliments I pay my female students, I realized that my go-to's are always: "You look pretty today" or "I love how you did your hair" or other things that focus only their physical appearance. 

I know that everyone likes to hear these compliments from time to time when they've put forth an effort to look nice, but there are so many other deserving words of praise that I can give my girls. I have some seriously amazing young women in my classroom who have such a range of talent, and it's time that I remember to focus on those qualities the next time I want to give them a compliment. 

You can download a free printable I made for myself if you too would like some compliment inspiration and reminders for girls. 

Lastly, I want to jump start my compliment train by bragging on a couple of ladies who are doing some epic work when it comes to building up young girls. 

1. Compliment - The tagline for this shop is "We Rise by Lifting Others," and I absolutely love their mission.  This business started as an AVID fundraiser by an English teacher working hard to empower her students.  Her business grew from there and now she donates five percent of every sale to provide deserving smart girls with scholarships. The founder also mentors young female business owners which is a mission that I can fully stand behind (and hope to do myself one day!). 

In addition to all this, the products themselves promote appreciation of the amazing women in our lives. My favorite piece from their product line is this simple gratitude necklace. They have a batch of compliments to choose from, or you can write your own. I think these would be perfect graduation gifts, teacher gifts, and mentor gifts. 

I've partnered up with Compliment to give away one of these necklaces, so please check out the giveaway on my Instagram from 3/20/2017 at 6pm EST- 3/24/2017. The winner will be announced at 4:00 pm EST on Friday!  I'm at BsBookLove if you want to enter!

2. TeachMsTanner - This woman right here is truly an inspiration. The workshops she has for girls at her school are brave and so very important. I could go on and on about the work this teacher does, but it's impossible to paint an accurate picture. Just go follow her, and you will see what I'm talking about. 

This post contains affiliate links, but opinions are all my own. 
Thank you for supporting my teaching blog! 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Spring Activities for Secondary English Language Arts

I have such mixed emotions about spring this year. I've been spoiled most of my teaching career by using all 8+ of our built-in snow days, but we've had such an abnormally mild winter here in East Tennessee, that I keep looking for white snow instead of yellow daffodils. Sigh. I'm hoping that sharing these ideas will put be into the spring spirit. πŸ˜€ 🌸🌞

Spring Activities for High School and Middle School ELA Students: 

1. Take Learning Outside:

* Read outside. Around this time of year, my students start asking if they can read outside. I try to say yes when it's appropriate. Simply a change in environment can wake up groggy brains and give energy to class discussions.

*Work on procedural/ explanatory writing by having students use elements from nature to build a mini hut. You can read all about this activity here, but the main premise is this: Students think they are clear in their writing until someone else tries to follow their directions. I use this outdoor activity when I teach the hut building chapter of Lord of the Flies, but it can be used as a stand-alone writing activity or with any story in which the character needs to build a shelter for survival (think Hatchet, Island of the Blue Dolphin, etc. )

*Use sidewalk chalk as a novel writing tool. The possibilities are endless with sidewalk chalk, but as I was brainstorming ideas for this post, I came across some little kids using chalk to learn out the human body and this immediately made me think of Danielle Knight's Life Size Body Biography Character Analysis. This would be a super fun outdoor group assignment (though I would probably just have my students draw a body shape rather do the outline for various spring fever reasons πŸ˜‘)

2. Sring Egg Symbolism: This is my go-to activity to use before Good Friday or spring break. Students can focus some of their warm-weather energy into coloring while still digging deep into the text. You can find a template and model paragraph in my store here: Sring Egg Symbolism 
If you are in need of the history version as well, you can find that in my husband's store: Historical Figure Egg
Be sure to follow me on Instagram for all kinds of English teacher collaboration @BsBookLove

Into the Wild and Thoreau Eggs *swoon*

3. Poetry: National Poetry month takes place in April, so spring is a perfect time to incorporate a little more poetry into your lessons.

*Limerick summaries and concept work- Limericks are silly little poems that provide a fun way to practice summarizing skills or concept explanations around St. Patrick's day (or any time really!).

I have provided you some my own examples here:
 A summary of my favorite Harry Potter book! Can you guess which one!? 
 Link to informational text I used for this summary: St. Patrick's Day: Facts, Myths, and Traditions
A funny grammar limerick 

All of my newsletter subscribers will be receiving these examples and student self-checking worksheet for free. Be sure to sign up here for your own set! 

* Haiku word work, mood, and imagery using Storybird- I mention Storybird in so many of my posts because this is my absolute favorite site for creative assignments! You can do so much with Storybird, but here is a specific example for spring. Based on whichever concept you are working on at the time, have students create a Haiku (3 non-rhyming lines with 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables) that contains this concept within the lines.
A spring imagery Haiku example

Storybird provides the pictures and words, so it's a fun challenge to piece them all together!
You can find my full instructions on how to create a puzzle poem on Storybird here:

4. Yeats in Ireland- A great listening tool to use in the spring is a Rick Steve's podcast in which he has native speakers recite Yeats' poetry and discuss the must-see Yeats' landmarks Ireland. My students really get into podcasts, so I love finding relevant episodes to use in class! This assignment combines listening skills, informational text, and geography! 

5. Earth Day:

* Argumentative, problem/solution, or informational writing. Earth day presents a perfect time to implement some real-world writing and reading that students can relate to. Newsela has an entire text set section of climate related articles for student leveled reading.

*"Thanatopsis"- When I teach American literature, I really love incorporating the poem "Thanatopsis" around Earth Day because its theme is all about returning to earth when we pass. Though it might seem like a morbid topic, I have my students incorporate some STEM skills by coming up with environmentally friendly burial solutions.  

6. Using Dr. Suess in Read Across America Day - March 2 is a fun day to add in scaffolding pictures books with older students. I have used many pictures books for differenct concepts, but my favorite is The Butter Battle Book. It's so perfect for political satire!
Be sure to follow me on Instagram for all kinds of English teacher collaboration @BsBookLove

I hope that these ideas bring a little spring inspriation into your classroom! Enjoy this season with your students, and enjoy your spring break even more. ;) My husband, dog, and I are going to be camping at Skidaway Island State Park in Savannah, Ga. What are your plans!? Leave a comment and let me know!

Pictures from our first camping trip at Skidaway about 4 years ago:
 Our old camper we dubbed "The Jones" because he was beat all to hell but could hold a lot of beverages. ;) Ha! Cheers to spring!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cranking up The Canterbury Tales: Fun, Real-World Driven Lessons for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

I absolutely love teaching The Canterbury Tales, and when I do it right, I even make my students love it a little too. ;) I've tried many different activities to teach Chaucer's classic throughout the years, so I wanted to list the very best strategies for engaging students with this fun tale.

How to Crank Up The Canterbury Tales: 

1. Have fun teaching language change with emojis- πŸ˜†πŸ˜ŽπŸ˜Since most British literature teachers begin with Beowulf and touch on Old English, it's a natural continuum to teach The Canterbury Tales next as a way to bridge the language changes that brought about Middle English. To liven up your language change lecture, have students practice translating The Canterbury Tale's prologue into Modern, Modern English by using text and emojis. 
As you can see from the picture, I used Remind to receive their translations, but I also gave the options of doing this on a digital lesson I designed that has a phone with emojis for those who either didn't want to use their data or didn't have a phone. You can see this in action here: 

2. Zig-Zag read the characters- The Canterbury Tales character descriptions lends itself well to differentiation. You can assign more complicated entries, such as the pardoner, to higher level students and easier entries, such as the plowman, to lower level students. An easy and inconspicuous way to do this is to have two different colored sticky notes with numbers. One set of numbers will correspond to the higher lever and one set will go with the lower level.  As students walk in, let them pick from the appropriate pile. 

As students are reading about their characters, have them do something with the text. Here are some ideas: 

*Have them read this for homework then design a costume wear in class the next day (I don't have any pictures of this, but neighbor English teacher did this recently, and it looked so fun!) 

3. Try doodle note taking to help students grasp the frame story concept- One thing that is very difficult to explain is the how the frame story of The Canterbury Tales sets up the tales themselves. I tried to give my students a visual of this as well as a notetaking strategy by using doodle notes for the first time. It was a huge success! Doodle notes provided a visual, activated a different part of their brains, and gave us a nice technology respite from our digital lessons

As I have found with many activities I do, high school students LOVE to color! I try to incorporate it every chance I get because I believe in its stress relief and brain activation. You can find these doodle notes in my Canterbury Tales unit pack here, The Canterbury Tales Unit 

4. Utilize tools students love like Snapchat - I did my entire Canterbury Tales unit around the theme of Snapchat because there are SO many educational things you can do with this program! As a way to display irony and other story elements from "The Pardoner's Tale," I had students get into groups and make snaps. The LOVED this...obviously. Within my unit, you can edit the tasks that you want them to snap. For example, if you have a group that needs to practice simple plot elements, they can showcase exposition, rising action, etc. Higher level groups can find irony and Chaucer's deeper level purpose. 

5. Hook them for "The Wife of Bath's Tale" with a poll- This one takes guts, but I love to do it because it really hooks them into the story and serves as a great comparison for the text's answers to the age-old question of what women want. You can see the answers rolling in here: 


If this video doesn't work, here is screen shot: 

Funny right!? Once we get to the part in the story where the knight is finding the answers, we pull this poll back up and compare 1392 answers to 2000's answers. :) 

6. Make the pilgrimage concept relevant to real life with Rick Steves- I love podcasts and try to incorporate them in my classroom any chance I get. Just as we were finishing The Canterbury Tales this semester, this episode popped into my queue. 
Perfect timing! We listened to the first 12 minutes of the podcast, picked out three lines in which the guest waxes poetic about taking a road-trip pilgrimage, and wrote our own pilgrimage dream using poetic descriptions. I learned so much about my students when I graded these! 

And because I was on a roll with the doodle notes, I whipped one up so that students could take notes while listening. I told them that they didn't have to make this one pretty if they didn't want to (just fill in the notes as they listened), but 100% of my students did some form of coloring and doodling while engaging with the podcast. :) This made me a happy. 

So there you have it! I hope that these ideas inspire you to crank up The Canterbury Tales in your classroom! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Real-World Beowulf Essay Topic: A Write Like This inspired prompt that students actually enjoy

This week I had a conversation that I've never had before. It made me want to smile and want to cry all at the same time.

Student: What tone should I use for this essay?

Me: What do you mean?

Student: You know, how should I word it? What are you looking for?

Me: Let's look at your mentor articles. How did these authors go about it? This one had more of a conversational tone and this one had more of a formal tone, so which tone do you like most?

Student: You mean I can write how I want to write and what I want to write about???

Me: Yes!

Student (male by the way): Oh, well I'm good then. I'll be good at this!

And you know what? He was good. He wrote a beautiful and passionate article about how the universal themes in Beowulf can be applied to his weight loss journey (he's lost 60 pounds and carries a gallon of water with him every day!).

The reason this made me want to cry was that I wish I had been doing this type of writing all along. Simply calling it an article made all the difference. Students hate essays, but they don't hate expressing themselves in a format that seems relevant. There is a difference.

 It wasn't until reading Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts by Kelly Gallagher that I even came to this realization. I'm 10 years into this teaching gig, and it saddens me to think of all the boring/traditional essays I've assigned in the past. I do believe that there is time and place for traditional essays in the classroom because they will most definitely show up on standardized tests, but I now wholeheartedly believe that if you can find a way to incorporate real-world writing into the classroom, then overall writing in every style will improve.

When I first starting reading Write Like This, I almost dismissed it. I thought his practical examples and ideas were great, but they seemed to belong in a stand-alone writing class such as journalism or a creative elective. None of them seemed to fit themes or go along with literature. However, after thinking about it more and finding some literature-based examples further on in his book,  I began to realize that I could apply his ideas to almost any literature we were reading because the basic concept is this: Find real-world mentor texts. Have students mimic these texts. Mimic the texts yourself for modeling. 

                              Here is what I came up with for our first Write Like This writing: 

Real-World Beowulf Essay 

After finishing the epic, I had students zigzag read real- world articles on Beowulf

No matter if you are writing a college entrance essay, starting a business, or running a non-profit foundation, telling your story is the most important part. Without a story, no one will connect to your words. Since the beginning of stories, with Beowulf being the first one in the English language, humans have used these narratives to shape their own lives and businesses. 
For examples of how these universal themes are applied to real-life situations, read a couple of the following articles: 

***If you are reading this because you want an example and don't need Beowulf articles, I found these by googling "Beowulf and Business" which led to lots of leadership posts. I suggest starting with "________ and business" and then go on to "lessons from ________". I also found some articles for Lord of the Flies using this searching same strategy. You can find those in my Pinterest board: Informational Text Pairings. 

Next, we did a did a close reading by highlighting the thesis statement and all main points (topic sentences) in blue and proof from Beowulf in pink.

Then, I gave students this prompt to think about for homework. 

Using a passion, interest, or future/current job, write an article about the top 5 lessons you learned from Beowulf that can be directly applied to your topic. This will have an introduction and a conclusion, but the middle part will be in 5 sections that have the lesson in bold and the explanation with examples under it. You will need to use Beowulf and one outside source with MLA citations within your article. 

The next day, we reread the articles and discussed the thesis statements more in-depth and wrote our own. 

Mentor Text Examples: 
***If you want these examples in an editable PowerPoint or Slides format, please see the signup form at the bottom of this email***



 After that, we filled out the rest of our introduction by observing what our model texts used as hooks and background information. 

Hook Examples from Mentor Texts: 
***If you want these examples in an editable PowerPoint or Slides format, please see the signup form at the bottom of this email***


After writing our introduction paragraphs, I modeled how the body of their article should be written by looking at the mentor texts and then writing my own example in front of them. I chose "Teaching lessons from Beowulf" as my topic (obviously).

I personally wasn't brave enough to talk it out while doing this as Write Like This suggests, but I did type it out in front of them. I told them that I was going to be working own my own while they worked on theirs. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see almost all of my students stop what they were doing from time to time to watch how I changed things and worked through my ideas.

Later on, I did go into detail about my word choice and sentence variety, but that wasn't until it came time for revision.

Here are my examples and modeling: 

  1. Never let one monster of a student ruin your entire class community. Teachers and students spend more time with each other than they do with their own family members, and because of this time together, it's important and natural to form a classroom community. When the community is good, everyone benefits. When the community is terrorized by one rogue student, everyone suffers. Hrothgar knew that nothing good would ever be able to happen in Herot after Grendel decided to destroy their peace, so he "gave places to the Geats" and welcomed Beowulf to help him rid his community of the troublemaker (Raffel 49).

  1. Don't be afraid to welcome help (even when you didn't ask for it). Though Hrothgar was a powerful king, he wasn't afraid to welcome the unsolicited help of Beowulf. Beowulf arrived with a request and boasted," The days of my youth have been filled with glory…grant me, then, …a single request…to purge all evil from this hall" (Raffel 144-166). It would have been easy for an authoritative king to dismiss this arrogant vow of service, but Hrothgar didn't let pride get in the way of doing what was best for his people. Being the kings and queens of their classroom, teachers can sometimes bristle at unsought support; however, accepting help from an experienced teacher is a sign of strength, not weakness.

  1. Use the right tool for each quest. Beowulf has a keen sense of knowing which tools to use in every situation. With Grendel, he didn't use any weapons, but with Grendel's mother, he realized that a giant's sword was needed to get the job done. Likewise, teachers should know when tools such as computers, apps, and manipulatives are best fitted for each learning quest. For example, if the goal is to help students read complex text more efficiently, then Common Lit's new guided reading tool might be the best-suited weapon. This tool is perfect for this job because the "guided reading mode focuses on ensuring that students of all reading levels are able to follow along with and comprehend complex texts" ("New Features from Literacy Tool Continue to Help Struggling Readers Manage Difficult Text").

The best part about this assignment is that I told my students this wouldn't be a 7 paragraph essay (they are used to writing the common 5 paragraph essay) because some of their points might need less explanation than others and therefore not making each point a full paragraph. Turns out that ALL of my students got into the flow of writing and just kept going on each one. I did too as you can see above. So basically, I tricked them into writing a substantial essay without complaint simply because I called it an article, made the format something different from what they were used to, and allowed them to write about what they were interested in. I'm going to call this one a win!

If you want the prompt and examples above in an editable PowerPoint or Slides, please sign up below. Be sure to check your email spam and promotions folder if it doesn't go through. If you already subscribe and would like this PowerPowerPoint as well, just email me and ask for it. 

If you are looking for an entire Beowulf unit plan with real-world activities and informational text, please check out my entire Beowulf lesson plan pack here: Beowulf Unit Plan  Within it, you will find a fun interview assignment, confidence boosting articles, creative writing on the dragons we face in life, and lots more. 

Be sure to follow my Instagram for more English teacher happenings. :) 

Write Like This linked above is an affiliate link. If you think that you would enjoy more real-world writing examples like this one, I would love for you to support my blog by using the link I provided. It doesn't cost you any more money, and I get a tiny percentage in a return. Thank you!

Friday, January 20, 2017

How to Liven Up Your Socratic Seminar

One of my favorite things about being an English teacher is hearing my students have deep discussions about literature. I mean half of the people I know go to book clubs for fun, so how awesome is it that I get paid to do this!? ...sans wine, ;)

 The value of Socratic seminars is tremendous, but just like with anything, hosting them the same way every time becomes mundane for you and your students. That said, here are some ways to spice up your next seminar. 

1. Flipgrid- My teacher neighbor and friend told me about Flipgrid, and it's AWESOME. You post a question/video at the top of the grid (that's me up there) and students add their own video response under it (no login required! whoop, whoop!). My friend Jenna at DocCop Teaching helped me with an Instagram PD event (search #IGforPDTech), so you can how she simply clicked on the plus sign then added her response. Supposedly, if you are a Microsoft certified teacher, you can get the classroom version for free (which will allow additional responses under each response), but if you are like me and can only use the free version, there are still so many things you can do with it! For example, when you assign articles or chapter reading for homework, you can have students post a discussion question on the grid. To make it more challenging and interesting, tell students that they can't repeat anyone else's question. If they are late to posting, they must listen to the questions then post an original one. The next day in class, you can put students into smaller groups and play a few of the best questions to guide their discussions. Students will need to download the app if they are using a smartphone, but no extra steps are needed with the desktop version.

Students in action. Go follow my friend Jamie if you love finding new tech tools because she is my go-to for everything new!

2. Socratic Soccer Ball- This one of mine has been a huge hit on Pinterest (and rightly so!). This is fun, quick, and gets students up out of their seats!  #goals

If you want further directions and a set of questions for your soccer ball, be sure sign up for my newsletter here:

If you happen to be looking to tweak this question ball for younger readers, you should check out this blog post that featured my idea in their roundup: Reading comprehension games that students will want to play over and over! 

3. Emoji Stems- Another fun way to get students talking is to make accountable talking a little more fun by adding in emojis. I created these emoji posters, task cards, and Socratic seminar props/prompts to take a little of the formality out of circle time. When students feel comfortable, they are more willing to open up and let their ideas flow. To use the props/prompts, have students pick an emoji (the associated talking points are on the back) and hold it up (either in front of their face or at their chest). Once they work their point in, they put it down. This makes it easy to keep track of who as added to the conversation.
What students see on the back of their emoji 

Task cards that can also be printed as full-size posters! 

4. Google Docs or OneNote Collaboration- All of the options above require voice-to-voice discussions, but I also like to add in silent discussion opportunities for my shy geniuses. To do this, I create a 4x # of students table in the OneNote collaboration section (this can also be done in a shared Google document). Then, I add in student names (they will type over top of each other if you let them add their own name unless you have numbered desks). Next, I have students come up with a color combination for their name. For example, one might choose red letters with yellow highlights. The only rule is that no two students can have the same color names. After that, I have students type in discussion questions or insight using their color combination. Lastly, I have students reply to at least 3 other people while keeping their same color combination. By doing this, students can visualize who has replied to whom, and I can easily glance to see which students did all 6 tasks.

5. The 3, 2, 1 Strategy- This is a perfect strategy to use when you assign reading for homework. Instead of giving students worksheets or guiding questions, have them fill out a 3-2-1 Socratic seminar preparedness guide. For instance, have them find 3 questions that will generate discussion, 2 insights about..., (setting, characters, etc) and 1 important line from the chapter. To cut down on cheating and Sparknote use, be sure to tell students that none of their questions or answers can be repeated during the Socratic seminar, so it would be to their best interest to save their work for their own use.

A great way of keeping up with this type of discussion is to draw a conversation mapping chart on the board and fill it in in real time to follow the conversation. I got this idea at an Edcamp my school hosted. The teacher charted hers on paper, but I thought it would be even better to make the chart visible to students in order for them to self-regulate conversation domination or lack thereof.  I made this chart by drawing a huge circle on my board then filling in the four points: myself at the top and three of my strong point-makers on the other three sides (Gage, Holdan, and Jamison). Then, I let the other students circle up and write their name on the board. This took all of two minutes to do and was a lot easier than me having to fill in each name.
Charting class discussions in real time

Bonus Ideas: 
I asked for Socratic Seminar inspiration Instagram, and it got a ton of brilliant replies. If you are looking for more ideas, be sure to read through the comments!

There are too many great ones to add, but here are a few that I really loved:

@MudInkandTeaching uses transitions words to help propel the conversation (I love this because it helps students learn new transitions and how to use them which is always a state-tested skill)

@Sammy_Sam22 uses dice to roll in the center in which the numbers correspond to a prompt on the board.

@DavidRickert7 reminded me of a recent blog post of his about even more ways to have a successful Socratic Seminar. I tried his "dump the fishbowl" strategy and can verify that this works better for my students as well.

@Laurenblou uses bingo cards. I couldn't find these online, but I whipped one up and made it editable in PowerPoint so that you can change the tasks to fit the needs of your students.
Free download here: Editable Socratic Seminar Bingo Card 
 If you like it, feedback is greatly appreciated! :) 

Soccer Ball Socratic Seminar and other great seminar ideas!
Be sure to follow my Instagram account to join in on some fun and nerdy conversations like this one! Ha! @BsBookLove