25 Ways to Tell Your Students They Are Great

As another school year begins, I continue to brainstorm ways to give my students positive reinforcement. Below is a list of 25 ways to tell my students they are awesome and what they did is great. If you have additional ideas please post them in the comment section of this blog.

1. Super job!

2. Gold metal performance!

3. WOW!

4. Keep up the terrific work!

5. Intelligence strikes again!

6. Splendid Success!

7. You’re amazing!

8. First class all the way!

9. Unforgettable!

10. Unbelievably well done!

11. I admire what you’ve done!

12. You’re destined for greatness!

13. You always do your best!

14. You’ve exceeded my expectations!

15. Exemplary!

16. You really met the challenge!

17. Nothing is impossible for you!

18. Do it again!

19. Positively peak performance!

20. Your brilliance never ceases to amaze me!

21. Marvelous contribution!

22. Nice going!

23. You just keep getting better!

24. Exceptional!

25. You’re an inspiration to others!

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Alternative Book Reports to Promote Literature Rich Classrooms

What are our objectives when using literature in the classroom and curriculum?

To help you people find books that will be meaningful to them.

To help young people develop the habits of good readers – active readers – who make meaning of words on the page and take an active stance while reading.

Emphasize gender-fair and multicultural resources and the attitudes, interests, problems, and opportunities of young adults in contemporary society.

This summer I have gone on a young adult book binge and I am currently rethinking some of the book assessments that I offer to my students. I believe that teachers need to be interacting with young adult literature on a regular basis to explore current publications, revisit favorites, and discover new and renewed ways to connect young readers with books.  I strongly feel that teachers need to create options for students in assignments and culminating assessments. Projects should promote authentic learning and writing for real purposes.

Below are three different book assessments I have had my middle school students complete in lieu of a test to show me their reading and understanding of an independent reading text.

1. Bookseller’s Day – Hold a bookseller’s day in your classroom where each student will try and sell their independent reading book in a book talk and display. Students create a “pitch” to review and promote their book to whole class. Props, costumes, and music are encouraged and visual aids might include posters, book jackets of your own design, stickers, bookmarks, business cards, or postcards. Students prepare a  brief summary of the book, a book review, and if the book has been made into a movie, compare and contrast the book and the film.

2. Author’s Study allows students with a favorite author to complete an author’s study project. Students write a report or create a presentation that offers key biographical information about the author, genre of writing, key quotes from the author about their writing life and craft, pictures of the author and images of book covers. Students can create an annotated bibliography of the books the author has published and a one page reflection about how this writer inspired or influenced them.

3. Book Reviews – To help students dig deeper in reflection about a book he or she has read – and to avoid surface plot retelling that comes with traditional book report assignments – book reviews found in newspapers and magazines are an authentic method for evaluating a text. I often give my students guidelines for writing book reviews. Paragraph 1 offers a brief summary of the plot in 2-4 sentences with an attention grabber in the first sentence. Paragraph 2 addressed whether or not the reviewer recommends the book with reasons to back up his or her opinions. Paragraph 3 – When the book is finished, what stays with you?

Looking for more project ideas, I have written in previous posts about video projects and technology based projects to do with students as alternative book reports and assessments.

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Designing Writing Assignments and Prompts

I just finished Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Close Reading and Writing From Sources (IRA, 2014) and there are so many great ideas for teaching reading, writing, and discussion in the classroom. The last chapter addressed designing an effect writing assignment or prompt to foster precise writing and critical thinking. The authors state the basic components of a writing assignment or prompt are:

1. The Topic

2. The Audience

3. The Rhetorical Structure or Genre to be Produced

Students should be able to determine the following when a writing prompt is clear and simply stated:

What is my purpose for writing this pieces?

Who is my audience?

What is the task?

Fisher and Frey cite The Literacy Design Collaborative for effective prefabricated task templates for teachers to customize. For example, the following argumentation task template invites students to compare two conditions:

[Insert question] After reading _____________ (literature or informational texts), write a/an __________ (essay or substitute) that compares _______________ (content) and argues ___________ (content). Be sure to support your position with evidence from the text. 

[Insert optional question] After reading ________ (literature or informational texts), write ________ (an essay or substitute) in which you address the question and argue_______(content). Support your position with evidence from the text(s). (Argumentation/Analysis)

It is important to remember that the writing assignment or prompt should not be an afterthought, rather all reading and discussion tasks should be aligned with the culminating task so students can engage in critical inquiry and investigation throughout the unit. The Common Core Learning Standards have drawn teachers’ attention to how to read closely. At the same time, teachers need to develop strong text-dependent questions that guide students’ thinking while their reading closely and write using evidence from the text they’ve read to show their reading and writing capabilities. 

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Asking the Right Questions to Promote Learning & Understanding

There are two types of questioning that teachers employ in the classroom:

Low-level questions tap students’ knowledge. These are the recall questions that address basic knowledge and comprehension of terms, facts, names, and events.

High-level questions require students to expand their thinking and relate to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These questions typically begin with How and Why. 

Both types of questions are necessary and important. Professor of Education, Dr. R. Ouyang states, “The primary issue is not to be rigid in defining question levels but rather to ask questions at a level appropriate for the learner and learning activities.”

To be effective in the classroom, the questions teachers ask students must be adjusted to fit the needs of the students. 

Prompting is one technique when a student does not answer a question or gives an incorrect response. Prompting questions use hints and clues to aid students in answering questions or to assist them in correcting an initial original question with clues or hints.

When a student’s reply is correct but insufficient because it lacks depth, the teacher can ask Probing questions to initiate the student to think more thoroughly about the initial response. Probing can ask follow up questions such as, “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you tell us more about . . ” or “How does this connect?”

Wait time is always something teachers ponder and can be a powerful question technique. Students need time to think. If teachers wait 3 seconds or longer for the answer to a question, the quality of students’ responses increases.

Here are some other questioning guidelines:

1. Ask clear questions. Ask something in simple, clear language that students can understand. 

2. Ask your questions before designating a respondent. Ask a question. Wait for the class to think about it, and then ask someone for an answer. 

3. Ask questions that match your lesson objectives

4. Distribute questions about the class fairly.

5. Ask one question at a time

As teachers we need to set the stage for meaningful discussions and model our questions so that students can exchange information and ideas with one another, not just for the sake of the teacher or a grade. 

 

 

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Interactive Reading Foldables for Dystopian Fiction

This past month I have been working to put together the interactive reading foldables I created this spring for my students when teaching a unit on dystopian fiction. My students self selected one of three dystopian texts: Neil Shusterman’s Unwind, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. The students then broke into literature circles based on their literature choices and met twice a week to address specific aspects in their text. The other days of week we all met together to address larger concepts within the dystopian genre.

I have bundled together five lessons and interactive reading foldables specific to dystopian fiction and they are available for purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers. The five lessons include:

1. Definitions of Dystopia

2. Characteristics of a Dystopian Society

3. Types of Dystopian Control

4. Characteristics of a Dystopian Protagonist

5. Rebellion, Revolt, and Revolution within Dystopias

As an added bonus, I am posting an additional lesson on Rebellion, Revolt, and Revolution within Dystopian Fiction below. This lesson plan with all the materials will be available ONLY for the next five days.  The lesson includes an interactive foldable, an activity utilizing QR Codes to access images and movies connecting the concepts of rebellion and revolution to history, current events, and popular culture and requires students to apply what they know about their dystopian fiction to their understanding of rebellion and revolution.

To print out a copy of the lesson plan and materials CLICK HERE.

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Media Literacy Lessons from the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute

JBFC Sound Studio   Students as Filmmakers

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute in Pleasantville, New York. The week long institute included a sneak preview of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and a viewing of the documentary Jordowosky’s Dune. In addition to viewing the two movies, I also attended workshops to address teaching media literacy in the digital age. JBFC is launching a new media literacy curriculum online this fall that is aligned with the Common Core and centers around image and story as it relates to analyzing and creating media (movies, animation, images, and print text).

Here are some key ideas that can be applied in any classroom relating to teaching media literacy and film studies.

1. Teach Film Terminology – The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) has set up a great Visual Glossary with terminology relating to film and media. The site not only offers a definition of a cinematic concept but also includes multiple examples from film clips to illustrate the film technique. Teachers need to teach and utilize these terms with students.  When analyzing film or creating a media text we want students to understand that a filmmaker makes deliberate choices to convey a message or emotion the way an author selects specific words to convey meaning. This element relates to craft and structure as identified in the Common Core.

2. Films are a Text and they way we teach them in our class should mirror the way we teach Close Reading – In the age of the Common Core, teachers are asking students to “mine the text for details, ideas, and deeper meanings” (Fisher and Frey, 2014). Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too. When watching a film, students should view for content analysis and understanding, but also to understand the filmmaker’s point of view and purpose.

3. Students are Creators & Filmmakers – In teaching 21st century skills, students are creators. Teachers should allow students to create their own images and interpretations to text and information. There are a host of film projects that you can have your students create as described in a blog post I wrote earlier this month. The creation process is just as important as the final product. Let students understand the undertaking involved in creating a film from the story, setting, lights, sound, editing, to the characters.

4. Storyboards are Essential to Creating. It all begins with one idea, a seed, a spark, an overheard conversation, and an idea is born. Yet, a writer or filmmaker cultivates the idea, outlines, drafts, sketches the paths where the idea is to expand and reveal a story. Students need to outline and sketch their ideas like real writers and artists. Storyboards are great scaffolding tools to help students put their ideas down on paper, and unravel the threads of ideas that encompass their story. Allow students to review, revise, and reflect on their work. As mentioned above, it is not so much about the final product, but the process is just as important.

5. Movie Clips as Teaching Tools – So many wonderful shorts and movie clips were shared throughout the week to utilize with my students and teach various concepts and ideas. I have compiled a playlist of ten movie clips that I will bring back to the classroom. Think about how you can use these clip to help teach point of view, structure, and or image.


 

 

 

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Social Justice: A Young Adult Book List

Summer time allows me to catch up on reading and begin to plan for the ideas swimming in my brain for the new school year. Since I have moved around which core texts that I am teaching first in my eighth grade English class, and we will read To Kill a Mockingbird in the first quarter, I have decided that the first outside reading  assignment will focus on the theme of social justice.

Each quarter my students select an outside reading book to read independently and if students are aiming for honors English in the high school they read two outside reading books per quarter. The themes of the outside reading books change based on current events and genres. The most popular outside reading assignment this past year was graphic novels.

As students are reading the historical based text, To Kill a Mockingbird, I want them to be aware of the oppression and injustices that still exist in our world today.  I have carefully selected books that I have read and have been recommend to me that cover topics of racism, classism, homophobia, guerilla warfare in third world countries, and illegal immigration.  My over all theme throughout the year is community and empathy.  Below is the book list that I have compiled for September.

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Lights, iMovie, Action: 10 Video Project Ideas Students Can Create in Any Content Area

After a recent #edchat this week on activities to try with our students in the new school year, the topic of video production came up. I love having my students create videos and I have compiled a list of a dozen different video projects I have done with my students that can be adapted in any content area classroom.

Majority of my students have smart phones and use the video camera on the phone to make their movies. We have come to love Vimeo, iMovie, and VideoStar apps for easy movie making, editing, and uploading onto the web. Students upload their videos directly to youtube or email me their video file to add to our class playlist. I usually offer a video project every month with some that are two day projects and other’s can take weeks.

1. Book Trailers – The first month of school I had students make a book trailer for their favorite summer reading book. Here are a few of my student’s trailers.

2. Character Music Videos – When we read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None students selected one of the characters, choose a theme song for the character, and created a music video to convey the character. Here is the assignment:

3. Art Comes to Life – Inspired by a wordless picture book, students used an image from Chris Van Allsberg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a catalyst to create a video that expanded on the mystery of the picture presented in the book. Here is one student example:

4. Films Genre Project- A lot of times I give my students choices with the projects they create in my classroom. When students were studying Shakespeare I gave them the option to present a scene as a silent film, rap, or musical. You can have students reenact a scene using any film genre.

5. TED Talks – We all watch them. What if we had our students create a short TED Talk about their own passion and interests.

6. Prezi Screencasts – Take a prezi or powerpoint and screencast the presentation part.
Here is an example one of my students did on mobile learning for our Flat Connections global collaborative project this past spring.

7. Lego Movies – My son is obsessed with legos and he watches many lego movies online. This inspired me to get him to help me create a lego version of a few scenes from MidSummer Night’s Dream. We took still pictures of different lego scenes and screencasted the images and text together. I showed the video in class to help my students better understand the text.

8. Common Craft Videos – I love the ideas and images presented in many the Common Craft videos. Technically this is a screen cast of an illustrated presentation. You can have your students create Common Craft style videos on their own or using the Common Craft build program (depending on your budget).

9. Choose Your Own Adventure Video – Youtube has a feature that allows you to link videos within videos. Last spring my students created a series of videos that analyzed critical theories of gender, race, and class in Disney animation. We linked all the videos together allowing the viewer to choose what he or she wants to learn about. Here is the original blog post with more information how to create your own CYOA videos.

10. Stop Motion Animation – This is inspired by one of my student’s Genius Hour projects. She wanted to learn how to create a stop motion animation. Here is her video but think about the possibility of students creating a stop motion animation to explain a math or science concept. Sounds like a cool idea to me.

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Picture Books that Celebrate Messy

I am a neat freak. Yet, my children have a collection of of books about messy children. Some of these books celebrate messy where others offer messages how keeping cleaning is important.

Here is the beginning list of books about the delights and horrors of messy, dirty, and just plain gross.

the girl who wouldn't brush her hair

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair by Kate Bernheimer and Jake Parker (2013)

“There once was a girl who wouldn’t brush her hair . . .” the story begins. Although the main character will take a bath every night, she will not brush her hair. And then one night a mouse takes residence in her tangled hair. She is okay with it and more and more mice move into her tangled and hair. They eat her food and convince her not to take baths anymore. She starts to smell and loses sleep. This is no good. She devises a plan so that the mice will leave her hair.

photo 4-5

Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest written by Judith Viorst with pictures by Robin Preiss Glasser illustrator of Fancy Nancy (2001)

This book is told from the perspective of neat and perfect Olivia, older sister to messy and clumsy Sophia. Sophia’s room is a disaster and she gets everything messy in a matter of seconds. “You wouldn’t want her in your new car,” Olivia declares. As much as Olivia wants her sister to be neat like her, her family makes her realize that Sophia is caring, kind, and creative, despite being messiness.

Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joe written by Dave Keane and illustrated by Denise Brunkus (2009)

Like Sophia in Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest, Sloppy Joe is messy but he has a kind and caring heart. He admits, “I slurp, spill, slouch, talk with my mouth full, and put my elbows on the table.” But when his family gets the flu, Sloppy Joe takes charge as Neat Joe to help everyone get better. Although, Sloppy Joe has some connections to Amelia BeDelia, despite wanting to change, his parents love him just the way he is with the old stale sandwiches in his room and mud on his sneakers.

too many toys spread

Too Many Toys by David Shannon (2008)

Spencer has too many toys and when his mother decides it is time to donate some of them, the negotiating begins. What should stay and what should go? In the end there is some consensus, but the box with the donated toys makes the best toy ever. The mountains of toys that Shannon illustrates on each page might be a child’s delight and a parent’s worst nightmare.

thanks a lot emily post

Thanks a LOT, Emily Post! written by Jennifer LaRue Huget and illustrated Alexandra Boiger (2009)

For four brothers and sisters, when their mom brings home a book by Emily Post, new rules dictate their behavior. No elbows on the tables, no talking while chewing food, play fair with others. The children decide to take matters into their own hands and give their mother a bit of Emily Post’s advice too. The book’s illustrations are great with lots of emotion in each of the characters presented.

lola spread

The Taming of Lola: A Shrew Story written by Ellen Weiss and illustrated by Jerry Smath (2010)

Although this book is not about being messy, it is about an obnoxious young mole who is a handful. This picture book is a play on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Weiss and Smath, present Lola with a bad attitude and awful temper. When Lola’s cousin comes for a visit, she meets her match. Lester is just as stubborn, demanding, and as rude as Lola. Lester’s visit holds a mirror to Lola as they battle each over the silliest of things.

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Young Adult Literature Gluttony: Summer Vacation Week 1

Always in search of a great book to share with my students, I went binge reading this week. The books I read were jaw dropping, powerful voices, and rich in beautiful language.

Doll Bones

Holly Black’s Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor Book this year about three friends who go on a journey to find the answers to a the ghost possessed doll they call “Queen.” I would recommend this book to all middle school students because it touches on the question when should one stop playing with his/her toys from childhood? Do we have to stop playing make believe games we played as little children? Main character, Zach struggles with parental expectations and when to abandon the imaginary games he plays with friends, Alice and Poppy. The illustrations dispersed throughout the book emphasize the struggle to give up childish things to meet grown up expectations. All three friends are driven to go on this quest and along the way of finding answers about the ghost of a small child, the doll, and  answers about themselves.We Were Liars

 

We Were Liars by e. lockhart is one book that I had to read in one sitting to figure out what actually happened the summer a fire wrecked Cadence’s grandparent’s house on Beechwood Island. Beechwood Island is a private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard that her grandfather made into a compound for the Sinclair family. A wealthy family from Boston, Massachusetts, spent every summer on the island. As the Sinclair daughters grew up, got married, and had families of their own, houses were added to the Island and now Cadence and her mother look forward every summer to joining her aunts, cousins, and grandfather on the island for summer fun. Although after summer fourteen, something happened and Cadence, our narrator is trying to piece together what really happened, the fire, and when the family started to unravel. The narrator’s voice is raw, curt, and draws the reader’s sympathy. By the end of the book you are trying to figure out what is the truth since the title suggests someone might not be telling the truth.

The Truth About Alice

Liars, bullying, bystanders, rumors, and cruelty among young people make up Jennifer Mathieu’s novel, The Truth About Alice. Author and English teacher, Mathieu, makes references to The Scarlet Letter, The Outsiders, and Anne Frank’s Diary throughout the novel told from multiple points of view. The story is about what everyone thinks happened at Elaine O’Dea’s party between football star Brandon Fitzsimmons and Alice Franklin. The rumors spread on social media and then a few days later when Brendan is killed in a car crash, the rumors take on a life of their own breathing hate in this small town in Texas. Think Friday Night Lights and Sharon Draper’s Tears of  a Tiger.  Few people try to seek the truth, there are no upstanders, and nobody will be the same after all the events that take place.

The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness is a compilation of essays and stories from Marina Keegan, a 2012 graduate from Yale University who died in a car crash a few days after her graduation. An aspiring writer with a job at The New Yorker to begin after graduation never came to fruition with her untimely and tragic death. Her parents compiled her writing, some which appeared in the Yale Daily News, into this collection. I am drawn more to the nonfiction essays, but her fiction writing is just as beautiful and honest. Keegan’s voice is confident, inspiring, and sensitive. I found it interesting that the first piece of fiction is about a young college student who’s boyfriend dies suddenly. In the first essay she declares, ” What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over . . . We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” Marina’s words offer young people that the world is full of possibility and choice is another opportunity.

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