Category Archives: lesson ideas

Helping Students Read Between the Lines: Graphic Novels, Inferences, & Close Reading

Students have been reading three specific graphic novels this month that are historically based on people who dedicated their life work to speak out against injustice. The three titles are The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, and Run by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Now students might be thinking, how cool, what an easy book to read, and there is so little words but really this is a deeper reading unit that others.

Graphic novels have depth of plot, character development, theme, and lots of literary elements found in a prose text. It also has the elements of film we study with students, allowing them to develop literacy in the interpretation of image for meaning. When students combine both aspects to investigate a text’s effect on readers, they develop varied insights into how meaning is communicated and interpreted. It makes for a very rich literature study.

What started as a mini lesson on inferring, because a rich discussion about the messages the authors and illustrators made balancing the words and images to help convey a particular message.

Looking closer at the page from Faithful Spy together the students were able to recognize the double-page spread symbolically represents Germany’s decline from the stability of the early 20th century through the disaster of the Great War, then into the postwar years when Germany tried to gain her feet and reassert herself on the world stage.  It gives the reader a literal picture of how an opportunist like Hitler was able to take advantage of his country’s instability to seize power. Both Germany and Hitler are represented by the wolf which is ripping off its collar to represent Germany would no longer be following the key provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. History.com cites Article 231, commonly called the war guilt clause, which required Germany to accept responsibility for causing “all the loss and damage” inflicted on the Allies in WWI.

Additionally, students pointed out how the wolf’s eyes are white providing a lifeless, vicious animal that is driven by aggression. It is eating its prey represents Hitler’s desire to eat up all surrounding countries to accumulate power and anyone getting in his way.

To encourage students to go back into their graphic novels and look closer at specific panels and sections, I created task cards to help direct them to specific parts of the book and begin developing theories about their reading. This was followed up with a lesson on symbolism and possible theme ideas in the text. You can grab a copy of these materials here.

*They Called Us Enemy Questions are not my own but were found on this website.
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Short Story Hyperdocs

I am a huge fan of hyper docs, a student-facing lesson designed to scaffold instruction. It is more than a doc with links, packaging and aesthetics are key. A hyperdoc allows students to first explore, explain, and then apply new learning. Holly Clark @hollyclarkedu has a great visual to showcase the elements and scaffolds on a hyperdoc.

@HollyClarkEdu created this visual to showcase the elements of a hyperdoc

This month in my 8th grade classroom, students are reading short stories around themes of identity to study and practice literary analysis. I have created three short story hyper docs to help students read, write, think critically, collaborate, and create. At the beginning of the week, students have access to the hyperdoc and they work through the lessons and assignments during the week. Each hyperdoc is differentiated and personalized for the diverse learners in my classroom. Consider these learner roadmaps for inquiries of study.

To get started creating your own hyper docs for your students utilize the basic HyperDoc template with the fundamentals of effective lesson design (engage, explore, explain, apply, share, reflect, and extend) in mind, but in no way does it reflect everything you can do. You can also get a copy of my short story hyper docs to use and or adapt with your students (note some links are not shared like Flipgrids due to privacy). Feel free to check out the array of playlists I have shared on this blog.

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Teaching with Graphic Novels

I love reading graphic novels. They are visually appealing, engaging, entertaining, and a rich teaching tools. They are a doorway for struggling and reluctant readersGraphic novels provide rich teaching experiences for critical thinking, inferring, visual literacy, and close reading. Here are five different ways utilize graphic novels with students.

  1. Graphic novels are Text. Teach these novels as a text for an all class read or in book clubs. You might consider having a genre study in graphic novels. Graphic novels come in all different genres and many are award winning texts. Here is a copy of a graphic novel reading unit I created for middle school students and a choice board with rubric for follow up activities.
  2. Close Reading of a Scene. Just like we chunk the text of a piece of literature, students can read closely a particular scene or chapter of the novel to analyze the key ideas and details, then focus on text structure, and integration of knowledge and ideas. Professor of English, Dr. Michelle Falter states, “The tasks and thinking skills required to read a multimodal text are actually higher level than if reading a print-based text alone. You have to see images and words work together, and when and why authors chose to put them together in a frame.” When I was teaching Shakespeare, I would pair a scene with the graphic novel scene for students to work in small groups to analyze and interpret how the scene and characters are portrayed, what is emphasized and what is left out. These close reads help students observe and analyze for a deeper meaning in the text.
  3. Build Visual Literacy Skills & Vocabulary. Graphic novels are visual texts and there is a vocabulary to talking about the structure and details of the text. Panel, frame, speech bubble, close up, long shot, wide shot, aerial shot are all terms used to discuss the visual elements of the text. Provide students with the vocabulary and they are able to talk about the structure and details of the visual text. Students can consider the impact of the artistry to covey meaning of the text. How does this close up image affect our understanding of the character? What did the author choose to say in this frame that the illustrator left out? What did the illustrator choose to showcase in this panel? What is not said and inferred “in the gutters” (the spaces between the panels)?
  4. Caption This. Graphic novels are both visual and print texts. Both stand alone and yet work seamlessly together. When we take away the words, what are our inferences and understanding? Matt Miller describes one of my favorite activities on his website Ditch That Textbook called “Caption This.” You can omit the dialogue and speech bubbles in the frame or panel and ask students to write their own. He describes four ways to utilize this activity with students on his blog.
Shaun Tan’s The Arrival has no words. Students can write the dialogue and story after closely reading the text.

5. Parallel Texts. So many graphic novels have been adapted from contemporary and classic literature, students can read both texts. Then, compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5). How does reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver in print and graphic novel form impact the meaning and messages in the text?

Graphic novels are not just for English class and readings for pleasure, they can be utilized across the curriculum. My students reading of George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy was an entry point to introduce and discuss Japanese Internment during World War II. Additionally, I have amassed a collection of graphic novels to teach about the Holocaust beyond the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus I and Maus II.

What information can you learn from this image/text?

Why do you think the author included this image?

What are some possible themes in the text? What evidence led you to that?

How do the illustrations impact the meaning of the text?
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Movie Mondays for Close Reading Practice

In my book Personalized Reading (ISTE, 2018) I write about supporting reluctant readers with visual texts as an entryway for close reading practice. Reluctant readers can may be struggling readers or they might be simply students who have had negative experiences with reading.

If Readicide as Kelly Gallagher (2010) coined the term – to kill the love of reading – in his book by the same name should not be a right of passage for young people when the wealth of wonderful words is infinite. Seven years after Gallagher’s text, many students would agree that schools are killing the love of reading the way teachers are teaching text. Still, many students post graduation boast of never reading a book throughout their secondary school career. reluctant readers need aren’tto be hooked on the first page of the a book. If they are not, they are quick to abandon a bookit like I was. Motivation and choice is are the key with reluctant readers. To help them, we educators must stop inadvertently committing “readicide” (Gallagher, 2010) and focus on what Steven Wolk (2009) describes as a “living curriculum,” a place where students and teachers use books and other resources and experience to drive classroom inquiry. One of our goals as educators is developing critical thinking, stamina, and life life-long readers among our students. 

Personalized Reading describes, “To accomplish these goals for teaching reading takes all forms and activities to tap into all the diverse readers in our classrooms, we must look up from the printed page and tap into all forms of text. Since we live in a visually rich environment, teachers can use visual texts—photographs, movies, and animated shorts— to first pique a reluctant reader’s interests, Using animated shorts, photographs, and movies, enables students to build visual literacy, and to practice the skills strategies of what proficient readers do. Images and movies serve as a bridge for to print texts when it comes to reluctant readers. Once students are reading, honing in on the “during reading” skills of making predictions and inferences helps keeps students active as readers. Students also need practice discerning the important parts of what they read in order to more effectively write or create responses to their reading.”

This year I am instituting Movie Mondays to practice these close reading skills using short feature film. At the beginning of the week students watch a short film: TED Talk, animation, documentary and then we discuss, write, and reflect on the story presented in the visual texts. Using graphic organizers and scaffolded notes help to guide students viewing/reading of these texts.

Below are a few of the movies we are starting off with and the follow up questions to guide student’s close reading.

Take note of the beginning of the film. What is the setting? What things do you observe in the setting that are important to Zuri? – What does the director’s plant in the beginning of the scene that provide details for the character and plot?

How does Zuri’s Dad feel about trying to get her hair to look like she wants? How do you know this is how he feels, even though there is no dialogue?

In the “battle” scene, why do you think Zuri’s hair becomes a character? How does this “fantasy” or personification help to emphasize his character and reactions?

The act of braiding means bringing things, like hair parts, together in order to unify them. What are three parts of the film that seem like they are weaving together components of the relationship for the family?

Hair love first seems like a light hearted film about a father helping his daughter with her hair but then suddenly shows there are deeper meanings in this short. How does the film tug on the viewer’s heartstrings? What does the director do to get an emotional response from the viewers?

How doe the color choices impact the film’s deeper messages? (You might want to research the meaning of the color choices in the film)

What elements of irony exist in the story? How do they serve to move the story forward and how do they assist in illuminating the story’s theme?

Get a Copy of this Organizer HERE

As students are listening to Gillette’s TED Talk they can take notes and pull out a central idea from his speech. Students are asked to find specific evidence that supports the central idea selected. This graphic organizer can be used as a note catcher and help students track Gillette’s presentation.

Films are a text and the way we teach them in our class should be taught in a way that mirror the way we teach close reading and critical thinking. Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. When teaching with videos as or printed text, teacher and author, Kristin Ziemke (2016) calls on teachers to model and scaffold to support your students so that they can, as teacher and author Kristin Ziemke (2016) says, “interact, respond, and think to read the world differently.” If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too.

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10 Strategies and Tools to Activate Knowledge

Understanding what your students already know is key to building initial knowledge that they need. Activating Prior Knowledge is important in students understanding, because it allows them and helps make connections to the new information. Using what students already know, helps teacher assist students with the learning process.

Most teachers utilize a K-W-L Chart for activating knowledge and in 2012 I wrote a blog post Beyond KWL Charts describing eight different strategies, I thought it was time for an update with some new strategies and tools that help “honor what students bring to the classroom and provides them with necessary context and connection to the purpose and payoff of what is to be learned. It is essential to culturally relevant pedagogy,” according to Jeffery D. Wilhelm, Adam Fachler, and Rachel Bear are the authors of the book Planning Powerful Instruction: 7 Must-Make Moves to Transform How We Teach–and How Students Learn.

KWHLAQ – These updated charts extend the range of a basic KWL chart to incorporate more metacognition, and follow-through towards continuing learning and related action. This chart includes How, Actions, and Questions alongside of the traditional what do you already know, what do you want to know, and what have your learned.

BRAIN POURS/BRAIN DUMPS – Brainstorming comes in many forms and asks students to write down everything they remember about a topic or subject. This is similar to a free write where students write all the things that come to their mind or they are thinking about without worrying about spelling, punctuation, and proper usage.

CAPTION THIS – One of my favorite activities from Matt Miller of Ditch That Textbook, the teacher selects an image and students annotate, comment, and even write a story to describe what they see in the image.

PADLET – This platform is great for collaboration and curation of ideas and activities. I use Padlet with my grad students and middle school students to share ideas, explain concepts, and collaborate in the brainstorming process.

ANSWER GARDEN – Another great online tool to post a question to the class and have students respond in 140 or 170 characters, what is great about this platform is that it creates a word cloud of all the responses with the most repeated words larger than others.

ANTICIPATION GUIDES – An anticipation guide is a comprehension strategy in any content area that poses statements or questions for students about the larger themes and ideas presented in the unit. I use anticipation guide often prior to a reading unit to gauge students thinking about themes connected to the unit of study. You can preview the one I created on Google Forms on WW2 and the Holocaust

GALLERY WALK – During a gallery walk, students explore multiple texts or images that are placed around the room. I use this strategy for students to respond to a collection of quotations, images, and textual excerpts. This strategy requires students to physically move around the room, it can be engaging to kinesthetic learners. Texts should be displayed “gallery style,” in a way that allows students to disperse themselves around the room, with several students clustering around each particular text. Texts can be hung on walls or placed on tables. The most important factor is that the texts are spread far enough apart to reduce significant crowding. Students walk around the room to read or view the texts around the room and then respond or comment on poster paper, a graphic organizer, or later during a large class debrief.

GAMES like Kahoot, QuizletLive, Quizalize, Quizizz – Test what students already know about a topic or idea by asking a series of questions on a game platform. Students love these games and they are perfect to access prior knowledge with low stakes or can also be utilized at the end of the lesson to see what students learned.

SURVEYs/QUESTIONAIRES – Make a list of 10-15 statements related to the subject content, including commonly held misconceptions. Have students mark “true” or “false” next to each statement.

WORD WEBS – Provide students with a word web of key words and concepts related to the topic or concept to be learned. Ask students to circle the words they already know or write a sentence using a 4-5 of the words that explains the connections between the ideas presented in the word web.

Have more ideas that work well with your students, share in the comments section for our readers.

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8 Activities to Help Students Understand & Experience the National Parks

I recently took a family trip to Maine for a week and during our trip we visited Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor. Visiting the park that was breathtaking, the gorgeous views of the ocean and surrounding Maine Islands. We travelled up to Cadillac Summit, the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard – note I am afraid of heights so this was scary and it took me awhile to get out of the car as my kids jumped around on the rocks! We drove down to Jordon Pond, a glistening 187 acre pond formed by the Wisconsin Ice Sheet during the last glacial period. Driving around Park Loop Road we stopped to take in the incredible rock formations, cliffs, ocean, and tried to hear the waves crash at Thunder Hole.

Our excursion made me think about the research reports that students have to do about the park and does that really give them an immersive experience to the awe-inspiring beauty of the National Parks. Not really, so here are some alternative activities to help students see the beauty of our planet, maybe become rock nerds, and experience the gems of nature.

  1. Take A Virtual Trip to a National Park – Many of the National Parks like Yellowstone and Channel Island National Parks allow people a 360 Degree Video of the geological features in each national park. Some parks provide videos and virtual tours for students to immerse themselves in the rich marine life underwater at Channel Island National Park or watch the sun rise over Garfield Peak in Crater Lake National Park. Check out this virtual tour down to Jordan Pond in Acadia.

2. Geology Connections – America has a rich geological legacy and the National Parks help us understand the Earth’s history and formation. Students can study rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, land forms, geologic time. Ask students to look at the rocks in their neighborhood and community as an entry point to understanding larger geologic fundamentals. Or students might create a chocolate Rock Cycle model.This topic is also lends itself to a lesson on weathering and erosion.

3. Learn About Indigenous Land – Maine is the homeland of the Wabanaki, the People of the Dawn. At the beginning of the trail to Acadia National Park is the Abbe Museum, which showcases the history and cultures of the Native people in Maine, the Wabanaki. All of the land in the United States and Canada was the homeland of Indigenous people and we need to recognize that and teach students about the people who came before us. There is a history before the “explorers founded and settled on American soil. This can include lessons on deconstructing stereotypes, Colonization, and Human Rights.

4. Observe & Respect the Wildlife – Our national parks is home to incredible wildlife. Wildlife Webcams allow students to observe the incredible wildlife in our National Parks. From bear cams to ocean cams, and eagle cams, students can see these animals in natural habitats. Watch, study, and research more about your favorite animal living in the National Parks to share with others.

5. Let’s Play Games and Challenges – What do you know about our National Parks? The National Parks Service has curated a page of games and challenges that any students can play. Test your knowledge of wildlife and bird calls, draw, design, or create something inspired from the parks, or play virtual national parks bingo. Students can try out one or many of these games and challenges or create their own game. If you love games, Underdog Games created a fun game that I have played with my family called Trekking the National Parks board game to learn more about the National Parks and makes you want to visit all of the 60 National Parks across the U.S.

6. Literature & Poetry – Through America’s history, writers and poets have found beauty and inspiration in nature. After taking a virtual tour of the National Parks or sharing images from different parks around the United States, students can write their own poetry and writings inspired by the landscapes. Forest Poetry, POV piece from a Grizzly living in the park or coyote climbing Bubble Mountain, write a narrative based on the people who first lived on the land, these are three different writing activities to inspire students creativity and learn more about the National Parks.

7. Read Literature and Writing Inspired by Nature – There are many writings about nature that students can read and analyze or use as mentor texts for their own writing. The National Parks Service has a lesson plan deconstructing Carl Sandburg’s Poem “Fog.” Here is Book Riot’s curated list of 33 poems on Nature that Honor the Natural World.

Fog

BY CARL SANDBURG

The fog comes 
on little cat feet. 

It sits looking 
over harbor and city 
on silent haunches 
and then moves on.

8. Conservation is Key – Conservation is the protection, preservation, management, or restoration of natural environments and the ecological communities that inhabit them. According to the recent United National Climate Report, Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying.” It is imperative that we take bigger steps to helping reduce this window to climate crisis. Students can use this report as a catalyst to conducting projects and reports to show ways we can all make a difference to slow down climate change. Educators 4 Social Change publishes articles, lesson plans, videos, and informational sites to help teach climate change.

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