Descriptive Writing: Building a Setting for Fiction Writing

My students have embarked on a creative writing unit, specifically murder mystery creative fiction. Last week’s blog post I wrote about the quest and the three laps students partake in to flex their creative writing muscles. This blog post dives deep in the first lap, descriptive writing and narrative of a place.

The setting is extremely important to a story. It can have immense effects on the plot and the characters. It can also establish the atmosphere, or mood, of a story or a specific scene. The setting establishing this mood allows the reader to relate to the characters within a story.

Let’s look at an example in literature. 

Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong – belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the sea, the holiday crowd. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian water-colour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.

Brighton Rock (Graham Greene)

Note the vivid imagery used to describe the setting. How does the author encompass all of our senses to bring us into the place this novel is set? 

In my classroom I would give my students this excerpt and ask them to mark up the text noticing how place, time, landscape, weather, and atmosphere are described to establish the setting. Then, students would sketch out a visual of the setting described in the passage.

We look at examples for models in descriptive writing about setting for our own writing to stretch our writing, take risks, and try something new. In mystery writing setting helps to propel the mystery and can be the best place to leave clues for readers.

Setting is important in any fictional story. Setting doesn’t just concern nice descriptive passages about houses, woodlands, mountains, roads and so on. Setting doesn’t mean merely ‘scenery’. Careful choice of setting:

  • Directs the reader’s attention to significant details of character or action. Setting can be used almost symbolically. It can stand for a mood, a state of mind, an emotion.
  • Plays off character against the environments in which they live and act. Characters (and their motivations, desires, hopes) may be juxtaposed against the settings in which they appear. They may occupy the setting comfortably, or be uncomfortable in the settings in which they’re placed.
  • Enhances the suspense and mystery (establishing mood and tone) in a piece of writing.

To help students build the setting in their own murder mystery, we looked at examples in film. Think about the opening scenes of your favorite movies and the opening shots that establish the setting. On one creative writing website, it states “Careful control of setting can be somewhat equivalent to directing a film camera. Many films begin with a long shot (distance), then a middle shot, then a close up. This threefold use of the camera is called the ‘establishing shot’ and is a commonplace of screenwriting. Beginning with a distance/wide angle ‘shot’ and then moving in to ever-closer details is also widely used as an orientation technique in fiction writing.”

To help my students write with depth and lots of description about their setting, they storyboarded the setting. This involved drawing out the setting and writing additional details to help stretch the setting details and give readers a clear sense of place.  

Setting Storyboard

 

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Murder Mystery Quest

This month I have dusted off classroom copies of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and added Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious to this reading and creative writing unit sending my students into this dark and chilly subsection where everyone is a suspect, red herrings are all around us, and reading is a game of “who done it.”

The Murder Mystery

I thought why not bring some creative fiction writing into the mix in lieu of an essay based on our reading. Hence, students are writing their own murder mystery short stories. I set up three “laps” around this genre to support my student learners.

#1 – Description of a Place

Show the setting of your creative murder mystery fiction through the effective use of sensory details (see, taste, smell, hear, feel) to help readers imagine and live inside this setting.

Write a minimum ONE page (double spaced, 12 point Alegreya Font) description of the place and setting of your murder mystery. Use word choice to create a believable, consistent narrator’s voice. Choose a tone for your story that matches your intent; use literary devices such as metaphor and simile to expertly craft words and sentences. Emphasize words or phrases that are most important; how do you want us to feel about this place?

Check out this example from one of my students:

Ronnie had heard stories about the mansion before, not good ones, but it was honestly much more chilling in person. The gate at the entrance was made of black matte barbed wire, shaped and crafted with jagged swirls and it went up about 12 feet. The mansion itself was something out of a horror story. The window were cracked, the bricks a faded mauve, and the front entrance had two large knockers, gargoyles, with huge black empty eyes.

#2 – Story Map

Utilizing a graphic organizer created by the teacher or designing your own story map, plot out the key elements of your murder mystery short story. Be sure to include: detective, the crime, the victim(s), the suspects, rising action, clues, climax, capture, solution, and resolution.

#3 – Murder Mystery Short Story

Create your own short story based around a crime or a mystery. Your story must be AT LEAST one page, but NO MORE THAN four pages. You MUST be sure to include all the parts of the story we have discussed (characters, setting, clues, red herrings, clues).
Possible Story Starters
1. It was a strange night, there seemed to be a chill in the air…
2. As soon as I arrived, I could sense that something was out of place…
3. One night, as I looked out the window, I saw the neighbor…
4. I was watching TV when I looked up. There in the window I saw…
5. I decided to go for an evening stroll.  I walked about three blocks when I felt it…
6. They would have been fine if they hadn’t stopped for the stranger…
7. Everyone avoided the big old mansion. It was believed to have…
8. They said she was able to utter a few words before she died…
9. Something is drastically wrong! Every time I pick up the telephone…
10. Sometimes I think my friend has strange powers. Every time he’s around…
11. All of a sudden I was trapped!
12. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” I screamed…
13. As I walked through the door, all I could focus on was the blood that covered the floor…
Since we have started the unit students are immersed in murder mystery and crime fiction. I introduced my students to some addition books and podcasts to help them learn as much as they can about this genre as models, mentors, and writing seed ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:
A six-part scripted podcast series. Teen detective Tig Torres investigates the twisted mystery of the infamous Lit Killer murders. But as she gets closer to the truth, the killings, each based on murder scenes from classic literature, begin all over again…with her as the final target.
It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Yes, this is the Cormoran Strike series that J.K. Rowling writes under a pen name.

One of Us is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus by Karen M. McManus

This book is basically The Breakfast Club meets Gossip Girl. Five students walk into detention, but only four walk out alive. The murder victim is Simon, the creator of Bayview High’s very own gossip app, and all four suspects have a motive.
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20 Revision Strategies: Make Writing Better

“For me, writing is never linear, though I do believe quite ardently in revision. I think of revision as a kind of archeology, a deep exploration of the text to discover what’s still hidden and bring it to the surface.”

~Kim Edwards

Revision is about going back to your writing to make it better. I was recently going through some old papers from my graduate school days and came across my notes from The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project specifically on revision. Below is a bulleted list of revision strategies compiled to help students dress up their writing to make it stronger and more clear.

  • Add more – look at your writing piece and name two things you can do to make it better.
  • Reread to see if it makes sense – is it clear? How can you make it sound better?
  • What’s the most important thing you want to tell your read about your topic?
  • Write the external and internal story (what you think, wonder, and feel).
  • Observe and reflect.
  • Use your senses.
  • Talk to a friend or writing partner about your piece and then write. Think aloud.
  • Storytell it and then write.
  • Focus in on something small connected to your topic.
  • Zoom in on a moment.
  • Underline an important line and say more about it.
  • Sketch then write.
  • Try starting your piece by writing the lead differently.
  • Play with the form or genre – turn into a letter, a poem, a song.
  • Find a book you really like and see if you can write like that. Model an author you admire.
  • Ask, “What have I left out?”
  • Take a sentence and turn it into a page (lift a line or word).
  • Try starting the piece in a different place, chronologically.
  • Write endings several different ways. Ask, “What do I want my ending to do?”
  • Reread asking, “Is this really what I have to say? What’s the most important thing I want my readers to know?”

 

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Literature Circles for Today

Harvey Daniels’ book titled Literature Circles (2002) describes a procedure to organize student book clubs in the classroom. A stimulating and productive discussion on a text requires participants to focus on many different things: overall content and form/style, particularly important passages, vocabulary, imagery, and the connections between the material and personal experience. The more we put into our discussions on all these specific fronts, the greater our comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the text as a whole.

The idea behind literature circles is that students take on different roles and responsibilities as they are reading a text. Students are assigned different roles on different days (at random) and that no student will play the same role twice in a row.

Each student is assigned one of the following seven roles:

DISCUSSION DIRECTOR (a.k.a Curious George) – As the Discussion Director, your job is to develop a list of questions that your group might want to discuss about this reading. Additionally, it is your responsibility to make sure that all the other group members share their materials.

LITERARY LUMINARY (the Buddha of the book) – To be LUMINOUS means to shed light. When you are acting in the role of Literary Luminary, it is your job to “shed light” on the significant and/or difficult, possibly confusing sections of the reading by bringing them to the attention of the group and reading them aloud. The idea is to help people remember some interesting, powerful, funny, puzzling, or important sections of the text.

ILLUSTRATOR (our very own Bob Ross!) – As the Illustrator, your job is to draw some kind of picture related to the reading. It can be a sketch, cartoon, diagram, or flow chart.Any picture that conveys an idea or feeling you got from the reading.

SUMMARIZER (You make it short, you make it sweet) – It is your job as a Summarizer to put it all together. You should prepare a brief WRITTEN summary of the reading, noting all the main events, interaction between characters and more. The other members of your group will be counting on you to give a quick (1-2 minute) statement that conveys the essence of that day’s reading assignment.

VOCABULARY ENRICHER (like an apple picker) – It is your job as the Vocabulary Enricher to be on the lookout for a few especially important words in today’s reading. If you find words that are puzzling or unfamiliar, mark them while you are reading, and then later jot down their dictionary definitions). Not all words that you select need to be unfamiliar. Also seek out words that are repeated a lot, used in an unusual way, or key to the meaning of the text.

CONNECTOR (You help connect the dots) – You are the Connector. Your job is to find connections between the reading and the world outside. This means connecting the reading to: your own life; happenings at school or in the neighborhood or news; similar events at other times and places; other people or problems; other books or stories; other writings with he same topic/theme; other writings by the same author.

OBSERVER (you are the “eyes and ears” of the group, an informant) – You have no particular written assignment overnight other than to read through the assigned section of text. But you will be busy tomorrow! You are the secretary, informant, and synthesizer all rolled into one. You must record the participation and information covered and contributed by all the other group members. To synthesize means to bring together. You should try to gather together everyone’s contributions and ideas into a single understandable summary during and after the group discussion.

These are the traditional roles and many have been updated to include Character Commandant, Mood Maven, Insightful Identifier, Symbol Sleuth, Mind Muser, and Reactionary Revealer. 

When I first started teaching my students would receive a color paper detailing the responsibilities of his or her role. Then, I threw out the reading and literature circle role log/worksheets.

Technology has enhanced the literature circles strategy to another level with Google Docs and platforms like Padlet, Seesaw, and Flipgrid. Students can use these digital tools to share their reflections, connections, understandings, and discussions. Assigning each book group a classroom in Google Classroom, students can submit digital evidence in the form of Google Docs, BookSnaps and/or any other application chosen.

Here are the benefits of Literature Circles: Student Choice

  1. Book selection – Students choose the books they will read.
  2. Job assignments – Students decide which roles they will assume
  3. Chapters read – Students decide how much they will read for the next session.
  4. Digital platform used – Students decide which digital platform the group will utilize.

 

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Teaching Writerly Craft Moves with Movies

Great writing is artistry. Helping students to read like writers and notice the nuances that writers do is a close reading skill. This layer of reading for craft and structure includes word choice, sentence structure, literary devices and figurative language, point of view and author’s purpose. Craft is the deliberate writing technique and skills to communicate a message in few words and subtleties.

It is one thing to say that while students are reading text, they can record evidence of word choice (including unknown words, determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings — to analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone); text features (and the impact it makes on the text); author’s purpose or point of view. But for many students, these writing moves are subtle and a difficult concept for students to recognize.

Movies and movie clips are one way that I help my students notice craft in writing.  If students can observe the symbolism, point of views, and tone in a movie, I can help them to see these deliberate moves in writing as well. Visual storytelling has a language all its own. Filmmakers create meaning and emotion all through images, by choosing and composing them with care.

We start by viewing a video clip like Alfred Hitchcock’s Stairs to Suspense Montage

Hitchcock uses stairs in his movies to set the mood, build suspense, and for symbolic purposes. After viewing this clip students respond to the question: How does Alfred Hitchcock use stairs to draw suspense for his viewers?

We look at other trademarks of movie directors like M. Night Shyalaman. He is known for directing and writing The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. His newest film is Glass. Shyalaman’s unique visual style threaded through his disparate supernatural, thriller, and genre films that goes much deeper than his surprise endings.

 

Here’s a third example of a director’s craft. James Cameron’s films examine Person versus Nature/Humanity conflict in his films. In Titanic, Cameron explores the confidence in which mankind has regarding their technology. The ship was billed as “Unsinkable,” yet nature proved its power over mankind’s technology.  Avatar is Cameron’s most obvious effort to explore the conflict that can arise between technology and nature, taking an environmentalist tone. In this film, mankind is using their technology to mine a precious mineral on Pandora. While this activity is of benefit to humanity, it threatens the existence of the Na’vi and causes harm to the Pandora’s plants and animals. This conflict ultimately leads to a deadly conflict between the two species.

Directors, like writers are deliberate in the choices they make to convey the story. If students can see and recognize these trademarks in movies, they might be able to see these same trademarks in writing.

JT Bushnell writes in the essay, “Realism in Action: The Art of Invisibility in Amy Tan’s Rules of the Game, “…the writer’s job is, first, to write about questions complex enough that they avoid simplistic answers or easy moralizing and, second, to demonstrate such questions with precision and accuracy.

Let’s help our students find these complex questions embedded within the text with precision and accuracy before we ask them to answer them for themselves.

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A Mockingbird Playlist

Last week I wrote blog post reviewing the Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird rewritten by Aaron Sorkin for the stage. This will I wanted to share the playlist that I put together for my students to guide their reading throughout the book.

A playlist is similar to a Hyperdoc – a digital document such as a Google Doc where the elements of the learning cycle are together and linked onto one central place. Within this document students are provided the hyperlinks to all the resources (videos, activities, websites, and more) they need to understand this concept or text. I like hyperdocs (playlists or quests) because they allow students to move at their own pace, there are multimodal including print text, digital text, videos and more for students to interact with information to deepen their understanding, analyze, and synthesize versus a teacher centered lecture or lesson.

Additionally, hyperdocs allow the teacher to spend more time working with individual and small groups of students to check in, support, and push student thinking and learning.  For my advanced student readers, I can include options and opportunities to experience deeper meaning while at the same time guide my ELLs through a chunk of text to help their English reading and make their thinking visible.

To Kill a Mockingbird Playlist

Click this link to Read the entire To Kill a Mockingbird Playlist (Hyperdoc)

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To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway

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This week I went and saw Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. My students and I are currently reading the book in class and a grade wide trip was schedule for us to attend a matinee. My students were buzzing with talk after seeing the show and our conversations about the way in which the writer, director, and producers chose to represent the novel.

The play does stay true to the novel but the story as been remixed in a creative way, some parts edited and omitted to my students’ dissatisfaction.

In a recent New York Times article,As Mr. Sorkin has explained pre-emptively, he faced a dilemma in approaching the material. He could not alter the plot significantly lest he alienate audiences who grew up treasuring the 1960 novel.”

Here are eight distinctions between the book and the play that are effective and some not so effective in bringing this novel on stage and to life.

  1. The play has been remixed and is not told in the linear fashion that Scout retells in the book. “Mr. Sorkin does away with that structure, introducing the trial almost immediately and returning to it at regular intervals. In between, he backfills the information and characters the novel frontloaded, but just on a need-to-know basis. The narration — now split among Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger); her brother, Jem (Will Pullen); and their friend Dill (Gideon Glick) — no longer suggests long hazy childhood summers spent squashing redbugs and pondering why the world is evil so much as a Junior League police procedural.”
  2. Calpurnia has a clear voice and is the only positive female role model for Scout. In the novel Calpurnia’s words are limited and her attitude towards the trial is unheard of. In the play she has a clear and distinct voice and perspective. At one point in the play she is described as a “sister to Atticus” whereas I do not believe this to be accurate, her dedication and love towards the Finch family is clear. Throughout the play Calpurnia has conversations with Atticus about the trial and how his “seeing goodness in all people, include Bob Ewell” is not necessary when a person is as evil as he is. Calpurnia calls Atticus out on his white privilege which is central to the story.  As Jesse Green writes in the NYT, “she serves in the play as Atticus’s foil and needling conscience. Mocking his argument that Maycomb needs more time to overcome racism, she says, “How much time would Maycomb like?”
  3. In the play Calpurnia tells Scout, “I like you the way you are,” when they are sitting on the porch one night. This scene illustrates an endearing moment in their relationship. What is key about Calpurnia telling Scout “I like you the way you are” is that any other positive female role models she has in the book are omitted. Ms. Maudie and Aunt Alexandra have been cut out of the play completely.  Aunt Alexandra and Scout’s relationship evolves in the book and they seem to have some understanding post trial. The only women we see in the play outside of Scout and Calpurnia are gossip (Miss Stephanie), lying (Mayella), and racist (Miss Dubose) which leaves limited (and clearly negative) views of women central to the Broadway adaptation.
  4. In addition to the women who are cut out of the story, the characters of Link Deas and Dolphus Raymond are fused together. In the play there is more anger in this character as he tells Scout, Jim, and Dill how his son and wife died because no doctor would see him being of “mixed blood.” His wife, so distraught from the death of their son, killed herself. This character verbalizes his disgust of prejudice and racism showing the children how deadly racism is.
  5. Atticus’ closing statement is not the same as the stiff and precisely selected rhetoric we read in the book and see so clearly in the 1960s movie version with Gregory Peck. On stage we see Jeff Daniels get so worked up and passionate as he yells, “It is a sin to kill a mockingbird” repeatedly in his closing argument. This is where some of my fellow English teachers and I disagree because I felt the closing statement was somewhat impromptu and not effective.
  6. Anti-Semitism is included among the racism that is threatening Maycomb. Bob Ewell (Frederick Weller) is so effective in having the audience hate him as the evil and racist character he portrays. He embodies the rabid dog that has been omitted from the play. Ewell remarks twice that Atticus must “have Jew blood in him” to take on this case. Now in Chapter 26 of the book there is that hypocritical scene when Scout’s teacher talks about the anti-Semitism in Europe and yet racism and prejudice is abundant in Maycomb. Ewell’s remarks in the play seemed out of place or Sorkin trying to make a statement compounding racism with anti-semitism.
  7. The N Word is abundant throughout the play and my students were upset how much the N word was used. In fact, when Bob Ewell is on the stand during the trial he goes on a racist rant saying the word repeatedly (using words directly from Lee’s text) but in court would that be acceptable and accurate? The freely use of the racist slurs was distracting and uncomfortable for my middle school students. At times, I agree it was in excess.
  8. Empty Jury Seats are symbolic throughout the play. The choice to leave the 12 jury seats empty throughout the play was blatantly clear. It didn’t matter whether there were people sitting in the jury seats or not, the decision was going to be the same no matter what was said or not said: Tom Robinson was guilty because he was an African American man.

“[Director] David Fincher, used to say that art isn’t supposed to answer questions, it’s supposed to ask them. If you walk into a theater already knowing what’s going to happen when the lights go down, you’ve walked into the wrong theater. To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t a revival. It’s not an homage or an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a new play,” states a feature article on Aaron Sorkin Adapting To Kill a Mockingbird.

Do you go see the play? Absolutely! And I will probably see it again because it raises many questions and is a catalyst for discussions about racism, justice, and lore of this book.

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How do you promote speaking with English Language Learners?

The post below was originally written for Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q & A blog on Education Week. It is part of a five post series addressing the question:

How do you promote speaking with English Language Learners?

Speaking is one of the core literacy skills, but ELL students might be shy or overwhelmed to participate in a large class discussion because of their language skills. Initiating small groups discussions and one-on-one discussions is a way for students to share thinking, questions, connections, and synthesis of a text, while at the same time building language and speaking skills. Doing so also addresses Common Core State Standards, which require students initiate and participate in a range of collaborative discussions (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9- 10.1).

Technology tools can help ELL students meet the demands of the curriculum and build understanding so they can meet learning objectives. As authors Heather Parris, Lisa Estrada, and Andrea Honigsfeld (2017) explained in ELL Frontiers: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction for English Learners, “The use of digital media provides a low-anxiety environment with a focus on the traditional four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing), plus the skill of viewing, which must be included in today’s classroom. ELs need ample production opportunities to develop language skills.”

To help ELL students develop academic language, consider having students respond orally using a video discussion platform, such as Flipgrid, Recap, or Seesaw. These tools remove the stress of performance in front of the class and give students the opportunity to present knowledge and ideas orally while at the same time build verbal communication. With these video discussion platforms, you pose a question for which students can record responses. You set the amount of time that students have to respond to a question; for example, students have one minute to answer a question or ninety seconds. Students can listen to each other’s reflections to learn from them and respond to one another. Flipgrid also offers stickers, similar to those on Snapchat, for students to digitally accessorize their look on camera. For students who don’t like to show their face on camera, you could keep a collection of masks or selfie props on hand for students to use when sharing.

On Seesaw students can add written reflections and draw their responses. Students have more options for how they might share and reflect by adding a drawing to explain their thinking or their steps for solving a math problem. Students can view each other’s written responses and add peer feedback with the app. Providing discussion starters or sentence frames can help students scaffold their response and plan out what they will say before posting a response on a video  discussion platform.

Both sentence stems and word banks are useful tools to help support students who are new to English Language.  Here are a few sentence frames from Achieve the Core that can be adapted to meet the needs of the students in your classroom:

Analysis:

  • I anticipate that
  • I think that  . . .  will happen because . . .
  • I think  . . .  might  . . .  because I know that . . .
  • If . . .  then . . .

Explanation:

  • One reason
  • Another reason
  • At first I thought

Cause and Effects:

  •  . . is most likely the cause for . . .
  • When  . . . happened then . . .
  • I think . . .  was caused  by . . .
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Harry Potter: A History of Magic

It has been twenty years since Harry Potter enchanted a global audience and I have been waiting three months now to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic, a British Library exhibition at the New-York Historical Society in New York City. The exhibit focuses on “the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories, Harry Potter: A History of Magic unveils century-old treasures including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library and New-York Historical Society—with original material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives.”

The exhibit showcases the of art, artifacts, and documents of traditions of folklore and mythology across the globe that influenced J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. 95% of the magic in the books was invented by Rowling herself, but the remaining 5% was taken from folklore and mythology to embellish the stories and draw the reader in.

Enter Room One –  Alchemy, the forerunner of Chemistry. A alchemist would need to have gold and solver, “stinking water,” mercury and white smoke among other ingredients, to make elixirs. On display was the 17th Century’s Ripley Scroll. The symbols, words, and colors on this scroll gave clues to readers in medieval times on how to create a Philosopher’s Stone – something many believed could make you live forever!

Go Into Room Two – Herbology. Who was Potions master during Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts? It wasn’t Professor Snape! It was Neville Longbottom.

J. K. Rowling drew inspiration for naming herbs and potions from historical herbals, which are books about plants that often reference their medicinal properties. In this gallery real and fictional plants are displayed to cure all kinds of ailments.

Enter Room Three – Charms. A combination spell and hand movement add magical property to an object or creature like causing an item to float in midair: Winggardium Levisoa!. Charms add properties to an object rather than transforming it completely. In Harry Potter, charms also provide magical shortcuts, like summoning things from across the room (Accio!) or turning one’s want into a light source (Lumos!)

Also on display in this room was the Cloak of Invisibility.

In Japanese folklore the story of Tengu no Kakuremino describes a similar raincoat of invisibility.

Room Four – Astronomy. Luna Lovegood shares a name with the Roman Goddess of the Moon and Sirius Black with the brightest star in the night.

J.K. Rowling actually has a notebook for unusual names:

“I collect unusually names. I have notebooks full of them. Some of the names I made like like Quidditch and Malfoy. Other names mean something – Dumbledore, which means ‘Bumblebee” in Old English – so far I have got names from saints, place names, war memorials, and gravestones.” 

Enter Room Five – Divination. This is the art of predicting the future. People have used a variety of objects and methods to see what the future holds, from palm reading to gazing into a crystal ball. In this room you will find a witch’s mirror, oracle bone, and fortune-telling cup. Divination is the “most difficult of all magical arts  . . . books can only take you so far in this field.” — Professor Trelawney

Come into Room Six – Defense Against the Dark Arts is a core subject at Hogwarts. In this class students learn how to magically defend themselves against Dark Creatures, the Dark Arts, and other dark charms. The ultimate evil is “Unforgivable Curses” with the worst used to kill. No Hogwarts teacher of Defense Against the Dart Arts has stayed in the position for a year.

Go Into Room Seven – The Care of Magical Creatures

Owls, Unicorns, Phoenixes, Dragons, Unicorns and more.

A Magizoologist is a person who studies magical creatures – a field known as magizoology. A person may not need to have graduated from school to become a Magizoologist like Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts.

Outside of the exhibit there is a wall featuring the different book illustrators Jim Kay, Mary GrandPré, Kazu Kibuishi, and Brian Selznick, as well as interviews with them.

Mary GrandPré is famous for illustrating the American editions of J.K. Rowling’s book. She designed the covers for all seven of the main books in the series, made the chapter illustrations, and invented the famous lightning bolt-styled logo that’s still used today. Her images were the first images people had for what Harry Potter looked like, years before Daniel Radcliffe was on the scene.

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J.K. Rowling has said Deathly Hallows is one of her favorite book covers. Throughout the exhibit are Rowlings notes and illustrations. To see her writer’s notebook and her schedule for writing are enlightening.

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“You have to resign yourself to wasting lots of trees before you write anything really good. That’s just how it is. It’s like learning an instrument. You’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot. That’s just part of the learning process. And read a lot. Reading a lot really helps. Read anything you can get your hands on.” – J.K. Rowling

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Make 2019 Magical!

9781946444998

JK Rowling says, “Something magical happens when you read a good book.”

Tisha Richmond’s book Make Learning Magical: Transform Your Teaching and Create Unforgettable Experiences in Your Classroom is a book that will inspire and ignite. I first met Tisha through the weekly #XPLAP Twitter chat and was always enamored with the pictures and ideas she shared on Twitter regarding gamifying her culinary classes. I was honored when she contributed a chapter in my book Gamify Literacy (ISTE, 2017) on the culinary missions her students embark on each semester. Her passion and commitment to education is contagious. Taking cues from Mary Poppins and Mr. Rogers, she shows us that play, laughter, and fun is necessary for learning.

Make Learning Magical is filled with amazing magical learning experiences. She sprinkles joy and love in all that she creates. The seven components she writes about in her book and ones that I will continue to adopt in my own teaching include:

Memorable Beginnings – Warm welcomes, entertaining hooks, passion and enthusiasm are important in creating a classroom community. I love that Tisha has a coffee bar in her classroom and rewards students with a trip to the coffee bar for winning special challenges.  Think about the vibe in your classroom and what kinds of activities you can do in your classroom to build a spirit of community and belonging.

Authenticity and Agency – Kindness, gratitude, and passion are important, even more so, giving students voice in the classroom. Teachers need to provide more hands-on activities and connect with students to personalize learning.

Gamified Experiences – Immersive learning happens in Tisha’s culinary class. She has gamified each of her classes from Masterchef and the Great American Food Truck Race. She uses Mystery Boxes and mini games to promote learning and critical thinking. She deconstructs basic games and shows you how to design them into content specific learning opportunities.

Innovation – “Thinking about things differently, shaking up the status quo, and devising new and better ways of teaching – is how we make learning magical.” It is about being open to using technology in innovative ways and adapting existing things (and even lessons) for new purposes.

Creativity, Collaboration, and Curiosity  – Creating missions for students to demonstrate their learning and go above and beyond the required curriculum is another gasified element in Tisha’s classroom. She allows students to create videos and other artifacts to showcase their learning and talents.

Authentic Audience – School today is about real and relevant. The assignments that students create should help them not only get a grade in the class but also give them skills and knowledge they need to succeed outside of the classroom. Meaningful learning experiences are key. Students aren’t only creating for the teacher but for a wider audience and build connections.

Legacy –  “Every day we have the power to transform students’ lives.” How do you celebrate student successes and how can you help your students realize they have worth?

The new year has just started and our resolutions are in place to be better in the new year. Transforming our classrooms into a magical space where students feel valued and heard is important in building community and making learning happen. Tisha’s book has give me some new ideas how I can adapt my current practices and games in my classroom to spark magic, play, and meaning everyday.

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