Author Archives: The Teaching Factor

Use Badges to Create Self Paced Learning Experiences

The following blog post was written by Julie Randles for ISTE’s EdTekHub. The original post can be found here.

Awarding badges is more than a way to recognize student accomplishments. For educator Michele Haiken, badges also offer a way to give students a self-paced learning experience.

“I looked to my gaming experience and I borrowed the idea of badging as I re-examined my curriculum to find ways that students could work independently and in a self-paced environment to meet learning targets,” says Haiken, a teacher at Rye Middle School in New York.

And with that new benefit in mind, Haiken was hooked.

For teachers ready to try badging to allow students to demonstrate concept, standard or skill mastery, or to give them a self-paced learning experience, Haiken offers these on-ramps:

Consider reversing curriculum design. Haiken found the best way to get started with badging was to “backward design” some of her curriculum. She started with her targets for students by semester’s end – say meeting Common Core standards or her own standards – and then created self-paced learning projects.

She took this approach in both an English class and a speech and debate elective, making the first 10 weeks of class self-paced and requiring students to complete three badges by the end of the quarter. It all began with asking herself what she wanted students to be able to do in 10 weeks and what smaller pieces could she create that show evidence of learning?

Revise or re-rig. If the backward design approach is too much to bite off, Haiken suggests revising current curriculum to include opportunities for students to master learning levels to earn badges.

She took this approach for a dystopian reading unit where all students were reading different novels. The entire class met to discuss broad themes in all dystopian novels, but when students met in smaller reading groups or worked independently, Haiken provided badge-based activities that let her know individual students understood the texts they were reading.

Build in opportunities for reflection and revision. Adding badging into the learning mix is a great way to encourage students to slow down, understand concepts and use old knowledge to build new knowledge.

It’s also a good way to address the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students, which expect students to use technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals.

In her speech and debate class, Haiken asked students to look at models and mentors for public speaking – think John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. – and reflect on what the two men were doing as public speakers, asking “What can I take away from that?”

Students used the knowledge they gained from that reflection to created their own speeches, and earn their next badge.

“I would send notes through Google Classroom so they could revise or improve; so it wasn’t one and done and their work showed a synthesis of old knowledge and new knowledge.” Forcing students to improve their work before they could earn the next badge helped drive home the importance of revision and reflection.

Try badges for motivation. Badges can also help create a positive classroom culture. Consider awarding badges to students who have gone above and beyond as “super helpers” or to encourage acts of collaboration, character and citizenship.

Educators interested in learning more about how to use badges to recognize mastery and achievement can join Haiken for the ISTE Professional Learning Series webinar “Improving Student Achievement with Classroom Badges” on April 26.

Participants will:

  • Hear about badging ideas, criteria and ways to organize them in their classrooms.
  • Get resources for designing and distributing digital and physical badges.
  • Learn how other educators are using badges across content areas and grade levels.

ISTE members can sign up now for the ISTE Professional Learning Series that includes the webinar “Improving Student Achievement with Classroom Badges.” Not a member? Join ISTE today.

 

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Gamifying English Language Arts

For more than two years that I have infused gamification elements into my English Language Arts classroom to improve engagement, community, and learning. This upcoming Wednesday, April 19th I will be presenting a Webinar for Classcraft Games on using gamification in English. As a Classcraft user, I will address how I use Classcraft Games in my classroom, plus share additional add on games I have created over the past few years to teach concepts related to reading, writing, and critical thinking.

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Classcraft fits seamlessly into any content area classroom and I use the gaming platform as a way for students to track game points earned throughout the school year. Within the Classcraft platform additional gaming elements such as a random student generator, boss battles, and daily events inspire more gaming variety. Classcraft encourages teamwork and motivates many of my students to go beyond simple classwork. For example, each month I moderate Twitter Book Chats and students can earn 1,000 XP (Experience Points) for reading the book and participating in the chat. This is a win win for the students because they are reading new books, talking with others about their reading, and earning games points that can unlock additional powers and privileges. Privileges include preferential seating, previewing quiz questions, and even a free homework pass.

In addition to utilizing Classcraft, I am always building new games and add ons with each unit of study. This year I used bottle flipping on a target board for specific writing prompts. After learning about the “old school” Nickelodeon show Legends of the Hidden Temple, I created my own version of the game for a reading unit on courage.  I am always transforming traditional board games like Bingo, Connect Four, and Snakes and Ladders into theme based games for classroom learning.

Join me for a discussion of gamification to promote reading, writing, and critical thinking.  Register for the Webinar here. 

Preview the slide deck below.

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How do the choices we make impact the world? Blending Science and English in an Investigative Writing Unit of Study

Saturday, April 8th is the #EdCollabGathering, an free online conference addressing innovative ideas in education.

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The Educator Collaborative, LLC, is a think tank and educational consulting organization working to innovate the ways educators learn together.

Founded by internationally recognized educator, author, and consultant Christopher Lehman, we aim to serve children and the adults who teach, learn, and grow alongside them.

I will be presenting, “How do the choices we make impact the world? Blending Science and English in an Investigative Writing Unit of Study.” The presentation will address inquiry based content area writing with investigative science research and feature articles. Grounded in informational text and research, students write their own science based investigative journalism article with the guiding question: How do the choices we make impact the world?

Below are the slides for the presentation.

Check out an archive of the presentation here.

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New Ways to Use “Old School” Bingo in Your Classroom

Old School games are a great way to bring gaming into any content area. Whether playing  Jeopardy, Who Wants to be A Millionaire, or Jenga, these types of games build collaboration and can help students deepen their content knowledge. One of my “go to” games with my students is Bingo. Here are a few ways that I have adapted Bingo for learning and assessment.

1. Text Dependent Questions – I will fill an entire bingo board with text dependent questions or problems and students have a specific time to fill out the Bingo board. You might utilize this as a homework assignment for the week (each night complete one row or column), assessments (A = complete the entire board correctly, B = complete 4 rows of Bingo, C = 3 rows of Bingo), or an in class activity. Below is a class activity that I use to review Chapter 7 & 8 in To Kill A Mockingbird.

2. Pursuit – Give students a Bingo board with situations or actions and students are required to find specific textual details (or direct quotes) that highlights the situation. I recently made a Bingo board like this for MidSummer Night’s Dream Act 3. The pursuit gave students a mission to uncover key events and show their understanding while reading the play in class.

3. Picture Bingo & Empty Bingo Boards – Use pictures instead of text or give students a word bank to fill in their own Bingo Board. Then,  ask questions related to the words in the word bank or images.

4. Persuasive Bingo – When I taught speech and debate I created five different Bingo Boards with a variety of persuasive speaking tasks: Persuade your parents to increase you allowance, persuade your sibling to do your chores, persuade your teacher to give you an extra day to complete an assignment. The key was that the students couldn’t bully, blackmail, or bribe to achieve Bingo. When a number and letter was called the students had to persuade the entire class effectively in order for it to count.

Bingo is fun and interactive. Bingo boards can be adapted for any content area or grade level.  Plus, they are easy to make. Depending on the task created for students the questions can tap into Bloom’s questioning, critical thinking, and allow teachers to assess student understanding.

 

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Lessons from the Past: Building a Multi-genre Humanities Unit on the Holocaust

I am currently working with two social studies teachers to create a unit of study on the Holocaust. This collaborative unit will tap into the new 3C Framework  for Social Studies Standards and the Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy to promote critical thinking, close reading and students creating their own multigenre text.  

This 6-8 week unit on World War II incorporates multigenre texts (book excerpts, poetry, plays, letters, primary documents, speeches, political cartoons, and additional art work), project based activities, and co-teaching among ELA and Social Studies teachers. Over the course of the unit students will write their own multigenre text as a formative assessment based on some aspect of World War II. This unit of study will be a skills based unit that requires students to look at aspects of humanity within war and conflict.

Below are five learning stations that highlight the voices and testimony of Holocaust survivors and victims.

Station One: Concentration Camp Life

1. Read the story of Holocaust survivor Erma Sonnenberg Menkel (http://www.ou.org/holidays/the-three-weeks/saw-anne-frank-die/)

What did you learn after reading this article?

What happened to Anne Frank after she was taken out of the secret annex?

2. Watch the survivor video testimonies of Norbert Wolheim (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_oi.php?ModuleId=10007143&MediaId=5721) and Alice Lok Cahana (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_oi.php?MediaId=1081)

How were their stories similar or different from Erma’s?

Would you have done the same things they did if you were in their position(s)?

3. Choose to complete 20 Words Activity or Found Poem

Station Two: Reading Diaries of Teenagers Who Lived in the Ghetto

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1. Read excerpts from diaries, written by teenagers, about their life in the ghettos, and their physical and emotional conditions there.

The story of Yitskhok Rudashevski from Vilna Ghetto began writing his diary when he approached his fifteenth birthday. He wrote about his academic pursuits and of how he sees himself contributing to the intellectual and literary life of the Ghetto.

On September 1943, the liquidation of the ghetto began. He and his family went into hiding; later on, the family was found and taken to Ponar, where they were shot to death. His friend, who survived, returned to the hiding place where she discovered the diary.

2. Complete the Think Dots Activity: Each person at your table will take turns rolling the dice and complete the learning task from the corresponding dot.

Station Three: Poetry & The Holocaust

1.Read the poem three times. Then answer the following questions:

What are some words in the poem that brings images to your mind?

What do you think is the theme (message) of the poem? What line or lines from the poem gave you that indication?

What is the poet’s purpose for the reader (How did the poet stir you?)

Emotional- Does the poet wants the reader to become emotional about the message? (angry, sad, happy, peaceful, complacent, courage, fear, etc.) What is your evidence?- Share a line.

Reflective: Think about the message in terms of your own life, be inspired. Share a line and make a connection.

Homesick

(from I never saw another butterfly)

I’ve lived in the ghetto here for more than a year,

In Terezin, in the black town now,

And when I remember my old home so dear, I can love it more than I did, somehow.

Ah, home, home,

Why did they tear me away?

Here the weak die easy as feather And when they die, they die forever.

I’d like to go back home again,

It makes me think of sweet spring flowers. Before, when I used to live at home,

It never seemed so dear and fair.

I remember now those golden days…

But maybe I’ll be going there soon again.

People walk along the street,

You see at once on each you meet That there’s ghetto here,

A place of evil and of fear.

There’s little to eat and much to want, Where bit by bit, it’s horror to live. But no one must give up!

The world turns and times change.

Yet we all hope the time will come When we’ll go home again.

Now I know how dear it is

And often I remember it.

Station Four: Art and the Holocaust
What does the text say?Read the picture carefully. What do you notice? (Literal Understanding)

About the artist: Samual Bak is one of many artists that choose to express in their artwork their feelings and thoughts about the Holocaust. Samuel Bak is a survivor of the Holocaust and for many years he painted subject surrounding the Holocaust. The painting The ghetto, as Samuel Bak explains it is “An inclined surface with no horizon and no possibility of escape. Indeed, when we were thrown into the ghetto like human garbage, it felt like being in a deep hole. This hole is in the shape of the Star of David, the emblem of the ghetto. Near it lies our badge of identification.”
What does the text mean? What is the artist’s purpose in taking this photo? Who did Samual Bak hope would see his artwork? Why?

Station Five: Terrible Things

When a child is born, it has no prejudices.

Bias is learned, and someone

Has to model the behavior.

  1. Read aloud in your group Eve Bunting’s picture book Terrible Things.
  2. Discuss with your small group your thoughts and reactions.
  3. Write a reflective response drawing connections to the picture book and the following passage by Holocaust survivor and author Eli Wiesel:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.  

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never. (Night, 32)

4. The question that is always asked in why do we learn what we do in school, with that question looming in many student’s mind,  Why study the Holocaust, something that happened more than 50 years ago? What are the important lessons that you take away from the testimonies of people who were witnesses, allies, targets, and rebels during this time.  

 

 

 

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10 Project Ideas to Highlight Genius Hour & Passion Projects

There are many ways that students can present their Genius Project Learning. I am a teacher who tends to shy away from traditional Powerpoint presentations and often give students a choice of different projects and products to share their learning. Below are some of the recent project choices.

Sketch Note It – Show us visually what you did for your genius hour project in a visually appealing way.   Your sketchnote should be in-depth and visually appealing.

Teach Us – Be the teacher and present a mini-lesson with active engagement for students to try something out and learn about your project. To help you plan for this presentation, think how your best teachers present information and help you to learn best. Your mini-lesson should be between 10-15 minutes and encompass a hook, minilesson, active engagement, and end with some closure/reflection.

Turn It Into a Breakout EDU – Complete a Breakout EDU Game Design Template Worksheet to combine your Genius topic and gaming. You can use as many or few of the Breakout EDU components to challenge your classmates and help them think deeply about your genius hour project.

RadioLab Style Podcast – RadioLab is a show on NPR that presents topics through engaging conversations, media clips, and investigative journalism. Create your own RadioLab style podcast and share the audio file to publish a collection of Genius Hour podcasts online.

Video TED Talk TED is a group devoted to spreading ideas. Their national conferences and regional TEDx events are famous for offering short, powerful talks and posting them online. Present your own TED style talk about your genius hour topic.  Video it, and share it with your teacher to post on our Genius Hour YouTube channel. The TED Talk should be informative, engaging, and inspiring. 

Feature Article – Write a feature article for our school newspaper and school website with the intention of getting it published. Share your genius process and final product with the world.

Whiteboard Animation Video– Tell your story and genius process through a whiteboard animation video. 

Prezi Screencast– Create a prezi presentation and then screencast an audio presentation talking through the major points of your Genius Hour project. Use free screencasting sites like Screencast-o-Matic and Screenr.

Blog About It  – Create a blog that details your weekly process and progress with your passion project. Add videos, links, and photos to help your followers understand your genius quest.

Genius Hour Fair – Design a visual presentation of your genius project to share with the entire school and community – Yes, school administrators and parents are invited. Design a display board or go digital by setting up laptop, include QR codes with links to resources and additional information. Be sure to include pictures of your week work and successes and bullet point the lessons you learned throughout the project.

Exit Reflection  – This can be completed as an independent reflection assignment or as a final blog reflection. Students reflection on their learning and what they gleaned from the entire Genius Hour process. Students might address the following questions:

  1. What did you take away from your genius hour experiences?
  2. What were the positive experiences and the challenges you faced?
  3. Why did you work on this project, what is the personal connection or cause that led you to this passion?
  4. What are you going to do as a result of your research and project? Will you continue to work on it after you leave our class?
  5. Why should genius hour be offered to all students at our school? Explain your response.

 

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Writing Revolution Part 2: The Power of An Outline

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on building better sentences based on the Hochman Method of writing. The writing strategies require continuous practice starting with sentences so that students build their expository writing skills, clarify their thoughts, and express themselves with precision, accuracy, and clarity. The two primary goals of the program are  “to raise linguistic complexity of students’ sentences and to improve the organization of their compositions” (2014).

When it comes to paragraphs and compositions, a quick outline can help students structure their ideas and understanding for larger essays. Outlines enable students to develop their writing as a cohesive whole and visualize a beginning, middle, and end in their writing. Outlines can also help students distinguish essential versus nonessential material and sequencing information.

An outline has the following benefits:

  1. Provides Structure
  2. Eliminates Repetition
  3. Improves Adherence to Topic
  4. Aids in sequencing

Teachers should model a quick outline for the class before requiring students to complete outlines on their own.

Before beginning outlines one might give students a Topic Sense and Supporting Detail and have students identify which is the TS and which detail is SD. For example:

__________ Mitosis is a process of cell division.

__________ In the cell nucleus, chromosomes are separated into two identical sets.

This might be a do now for a science class posted on the board. Once students can identify the topic sentence, the class might follow up with a conversation to articulate their reasoning.

Another activity would be to give students four (4) sentences and have students sequence the sentences for a paragraph. For example:

_______ Harriet Tubman helped slaves to freedom.

_______ John Brown led a small rebellion against slavery.

_______ The anti slavery movement began to grow in the 1850s.

_______ Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election.

A third strategy that can be used as quick do now or exit ticket is to have students identify the topic sentence and eliminate irrelevant details by listing different information or giving students an entire paragraph of information.

All of these activities help students to think about the elements of paragraph writing and building stamina and critical thinking for essay writing.

The Hochman Method’s Quick Outline includes a Topic Sentence, Four details from the text and a Concluding Sentence. A teacher might give students a topic sentence and then ask students to find four textual details based on the course material before having students draft a concluding sentence that synthesizing the information learned as a way to scaffold the outlining process.

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Note the dotted lines for the textual details. The dotted lines suggest to students that the do not have to write in complete sentences, rather include key words and phrases. The TS and CS are solid lines that require a complete, specific, and detailed sentence.

The Quick Outline template above is for a single paragraph.

Additional lessons for outlining include:

Students are given details and must generate a topic sentence.

Generate concluding sentence from a given topic sentence and details.

Given a paragraph, convert it into a quick outline.

Given a topic, generate a Quick Outline independently.

I will be embedding some of these practices into my lessons to help students develop their writing and make connections with the material we are studying. These strategies work across the content area as well. For the next essay assignment my students will write at the end of the month I am considering have them outline their thinking and grade the outline rather than write out the entire essay. Again, my intentions are to help my students become better communicators and write with clarity and precision while effectively articulating their thinking about reading.

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The Book That Drives the Story and the Game

HELLO

IF YOU’RE READING THIS, THEN MAYBE YOU KNOW

YOU OUGHT TO READ EVERYTHING, AND MAYBE

YOU KNOW YOU OUGHT TO READ DEEPLY. BECAUSE THERE’S

WITCHERY IN THESE WORDS AND

SPELLWORK IN THE SPINE

AND ONCE YOU KNOW TO LOOK FOR SIGNALS IN THE SMOKE,

FOR SECRETS IN THE SEA, THEN YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT IT IS

TO READ. THIS IS A BOOK. YOU ARE THE READER. LOOK CLOSER,

THERE’S MAGIC HERE.

 

So begins Traci Chee’s amazing story of pirates, magic, and the power of a book in The Reader: Book One of Sea of Ink and Gold.

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This week my students and I will be discussing The Reader with author, Traci Chee for our upcoming monthly Twitter Book Club. There are so many great elements to the story that I had to reread the book again. Additionally, Traci Chee has embedded ten puzzles, ciphers, and clues throughout the story and I was on a hunt to uncover them all – in my second read I have identified 9 of the 10.

The Reader is filled with strong female characters throughout and weaves between three different story lines. Sefia, the protagonist’s story and quest is primary. Captain Reed’s adventures written in The Book Sefia reads and is marked in a different layout embedded throughout Sefia story. The third story is of Sefia’s parents which run parallel with Sefia’s chapters (until you realize who Lon and the Assassin really are in Chapter 29). Chee has crafted a compelling story that plays on words and begs her readers to ask questions about the power of words and books to control facts, truth, and history.

The main protagonists is 16 year old Sefia who has lost both her mother and father. As the readers, we are told and reminded that her parents were brutally murdered. Sefia is cared for by a family friend, Nin, until Nin is kidnapped one day by a “hooded woman” with a “sick stench of metal.” Sefia is left to fend for herself and seek revenge and resolution. In this world the people cannot read. “They had never developed alphabets or rules for spelling, never set their histories down in stone.” Stories and histories are passed around orally so they are not forgotten. Except a secret society of people trained to read and write from a “mysterious object called a book.” Sefia’s parents had the book hidden and now it is in Sefia’s hands as she uses it to find answers and understand her past.

So the puzzles embedded throughout The Reader.  .  . Some are there masterfully to reinforce ideas in the story like the fingerprints smudged throughout the book from Sefia’s paper cuts that bloodied her fingers reading and rereading the book in her hands. Another character, Tanin, carries around a crinkled, burned, and weathered paper that she reads and rereads trying to understand like a map that is presented on pages 416 -417 to help uncover just what really happened when Sefia is with Tanin and Rajar. If you look closely at burned page on page 417 Sefia’s parent’s names have been rubbed out and erased. Page 25 there are details blacked out about Sefia’s father that beg the question whether her parents are really dead. On page 211 there are words faded out to again asking the question, “What information is being held from us, the readers?” Again on page 307 specific words are bolded and enlarged when Sefia is reading about her father’s death in the book. “There was – no face left.” This hints that Sefia’s father can be alive and the body Sefia saw was planted as a distractor for his enemies. Did you catch the hidden message in the quote at the beginning of this blog post – LOOK CLOSER.

At the bottom of the page numbers there are words floating throughout. It is a poem. Oh, Traci Chee you are a clever author . . .

This is a book and a book is a world and words are the seeds in which meanings are curled pages of oceans and margins on land are civilizations you hold in the palm of your hand. But look at your world and your life seems to shrink to cities of paper and seas made of ink. Do you  know who you are or have you been mislead? Are you the reader or are you the read?

Unpacking the Book As a Theme for Gamification

In Explore Like  Pirate: Gamification and Game Inspired Course Design (2015), Michael Matera suggests that successful gamification needs a story with a theme, setting, and characters to drive the game and motivate the players into action. The Reader is my inspiration and guide for my ELA classroom. In a world where students who love reading is few and far between, and paper or tangible books might been a thing of the past, my students and players will be the chosen to uncover the mysteries and powers of the book. The goal is for students to LOOK CLOSER at their world and the information that we are bombarded with visually and in print. In books, and digitally. What is true? Do books contain magic? What can we learn from the adventures described in books and the histories that have been recorded? Can we use our knowledge and understanding to see that “everything is huge and connected. . . But the book[s] are the key, and if [we] can figure out how to use it, [we’d] be able to open the door, uncover the magic that lay, ripping and shifting unseen currents, beyond the world [we’d] experience” (Chee, 41).

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Genius Inspiration for Middle School Students

Genius Hour happens every Friday in my classroom and this year I have required my students to choose a new Genius Hour or Passion Project every ten weeks. Genius Hour allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. The genius project is self selected, as long as it taps into one of the menu choices below.

Make the World/Community a Better Place – A genius solves a problem in a way no one else could.  A genius looks at a problem with fresh eyes.  A genius is ready make a unique impact on the world; solve a problem in a new way. For this genius project choose a problem and find a solution that will benefit others on a community or global scale.

The UnGoogleable – A genius begins with a question that hasn’t been answered anywhere, ever. A question that takes time to answer. It has an UnGoogleAble answer. This genius hour project requires students to research something that goes beyond facts and summary but requires analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  Students will look at multiple theories and present their findings.

Learn/Master – A genius seeks to gain knowledge about something that interests them. It takes 10,000 hours to get to mastery. For this genius project students will spend their hours practicing and mastering a personal passion of theirs.

Create/Innovate – A genius gives the world something it didn’t know was missing.  For this genius project you will create or make something. You can build, design, or create something from scratch.

Always looking to inspire my students and to show them Genius projects presented by other teens, I have collected a few videos and websites that highlight the amazing potential of teenagers. Below are TEN that I have shared with my students this year to wow them and show them that teens can make a difference, start a business, master a skill, and empower others.

Mr. Cory’s Cookies – For those who love baking and want to take it to the next level.

10, 000 hours equals mastery is showcased in this YouTube video:

Shelterpups.com – She wanted the perfect stuffed dog that looked like her own mixed breed. So, she created her own and started a business at the same time.

York School Student Projects all focus on helping others and the community.

Jack Andraka is a High School Student and Cancer Researcher. His memoir Breakthrough is a great read for middle and high school students.

Malala’s memoir  I Am Malala is one book that my students read as a part of a unit on social justice and courage. The Malala Fund helps young people understand that one person can make a difference.

Thomas Suarez designed his first app at 12 years old.

So you want to be a filmmaker. Zachary Maxwell shares insight in this TEDx Talk.

 

Seventeen year old Patricia Manubay is making learning exciting with “Dream Boxes” by helping young people get the school supplies they need.

Teen singer, songwriter, and superstar, Shawn Mendes.

 

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Powerful Writing Starts with Strong Sentences: 8 Sentence Activities to Use Across the Content Areas

“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” —J.K. Rowling,

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” 

—Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices

 

How do we get our students to write well?

How can teachers help students to string words together with poetry, grace, and meaning?

I recently attended a workshop on The Writing Revolution: The Hochman Method, an instructional approach to teaching writing and communication skills. Dr. Judith C. Hochman is the creator of the Hochman Method and founder of The Writing Revolution. Dr. Hochman was the Head of Windward School an independent school focused on teaching students with learning disabilities.  

We began with sentences and sentence activities. The idea is to start small in order to help students to write better. Focusing on sentences improves the substance of writing to raise the level of linguistic complexity and clarity, enhance revision and editing skills, and improve reading comprehension.

The following 8 sentence activities were presented to help student take command of their sentence writing and become better writers.

Sentence Fragments – A group of words that is not a grammatically complete sentence. Usually a fragment lacks a subject, verb or both or is a dependent clause that is not attached to an independent clause.  Teachers can post sentence fragments for students to repair. The aim is to address what is necessary to write complete sentences. For example, as a bell ringer have students identify the sentence fragments and change the fragments into complete sentences adding necessary words, capitalization, and punctuation.

the town of Macomb

does not remember her mother well

atticus finch is a lawyer

Scrambled Sentences – Another five minute do now is to have 7-9 words maximum for students to put together to make a complete sentence. One way to help students with this activity is to bold the first word of the sentence to help them unscramble the sentence.

Sentence Types – We use four different kinds of sentences when speaking and writing: Statements or Declaratives, Questions or Interrogatives, Exclamations, and Commands or Imperatives. Give students a topic or an image for them to write a sentence, question, exclamation, and command for. This strategy encourages students to think about the text and encourage precise language. To differentiate this activity  you can offer an answer and have students create a question that shows synthesis, comparison, and frames their academic vocabulary.

Q: _____________________________________

A: direction and magnitude

Possible question: What are the two defining characteristics of a vector?

Because, But, So – Because tells why, But changes direction, and So shows cause and effect. If we want students to think critically and not regurgitate information we can have students extend a sentence with but, because, and so. Each of these conjunctions help to change the meaning of the sentence.

Hammurabi created a written code of laws . . . .

Students can complete the sentence based on what they know and understand.

Hammurabi created a written code of laws because ________________________________________________

Hammurabi created a written code of laws, but ___________________________________________________

Hammurabi created a written code of laws, so ____________________________________________________

These three conjunctions can help students learn linguistically complex language and change of direction language that can help writing counterclaims. Additional transition words for but includes:  although, while, even though, however, on the other hand.

Subordinating Conjunctions – After, Before, If, While, Although, Even though, Unless, Since, When, Whenever. Rather than asking students questions about the text or material, use subordinating conjunction  sentence stems to evaluate comprehension and knowledge. For example,

Since Lennie has a mild mental disability in Of Mice and Men, ________________________________________

After Lennie meet’s Curley’s wife, _________________________________________________________________

Although Lennie promised to keep the farm a secret, ________________________________________________

Students can use a given subordinating conjunction to write a sentence about a character.

Although __________________________________________________________

Even though ________________________________________________________

If I was using the above activity with To Kill a Mockingbird, I might anticipate a student to write,

Although Tom Robinson was innocent and defended himself well, he was found guilty.

Even though Tom Robinson’s case seemed doomed from the start, Atticus agreed to defend him.

Appositives are a noun or noun phrase placed next to another noun to rename, or explain it more fully. Teachers can have students practice writing topic sentences with appositives. Another activity is to have student match appositives or fill in the appositives. Introducing appositives provides students a strategy to vary writing and help the reader provide more information. In addition, it improves reading comprehension. Another strategy is to give students an appositive and have students write a sentence around it.

Sentence Combining helps to teach grammar and usage because it requires students to gain syntactic control.

This strategy is from The Teacher’s Guide to Effective Sentence Writing by Bruce Saddler.

Let’s take the following five sentences:

People are innocent.

People are innocent according to a principle.

The principle is American.

The principle is legal.

They are proven guilty.

 

What did you come up with?

According to an American legal principle, people are innocent until proven guilty.

To scaffold this sentence activity you can give hints for students to use a conjunction or appositive. Additionally, you can differentiate the activity by giving the high fliers a challenge, the middle level students a hint, and for struggling or ELLs offer them a sentence starter.

Kernel Sentences – A simple, active, declarative sentence with only one verb and containing no modifiers or connectives. This activity is helpful for note taking because it gets at the who, what, when, where why, and how.

Snow fell.

Cells divide.

Pyramids were built.

Students state the when, where, and why.  Think of this like a puzzle, students need to complete every piece of information to write an expanded sentence.

In ancient times, pyramids were built in Egypt to protect the body of the deceased pharaoh.
Whether you try all the sentence activities or just a few, activities should be embedded in the content. Teacher demonstration and modelling is beneficial. Sentence strategies can be practiced in do nows and warm ups, stop and jots, exit slips or even test items.

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