Tag Archives: Current Events

Empathy & Compassion: YA Titles to Build Bridges

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are 917 Hate Groups in the United States. That means there are close to one thousand hate groups in the United States. Today in 2017.


Photo from splcenter.org

The events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this past week are disturbing and upsetting.  At the same time, as a teacher, I look to current events to guide my teaching in middle school.  As a teacher and a human being I promote empathy, compassion, and understanding among ALL people both in and outside of my classroom.

For summer reading I requested students choose any book they wanted to read that had a theme of social justice. Social justice and Reconstruction are where we begin in September. Students will participate in many conversations about social justice and injustice based on events that took place this summer as well as in the books they read while on break. We will continue to address social justice throughout our reading and writing units over the course of the school year because teaching students to be critical thinkers and compassionate people is just as much as a learning target and goal as any Common Core Learning Standard.

In response to Frank Bruni’s op-ed piece in the New York TimesI Am a White Man. Hear Me Out” (8/13/2017), Colette M Bennett’s blog Used Books in Class writes,

Reading provides the reader the experience of seeing through another’s eyes. That is the definition of empathy. There is research that supports the link between the reading of stories and empathy.  Therefore, my response as an educator to Bruni is that the bridges he seeks can be bridges that are built by reading stories.

Reading is at the center of my middle school English classroom and reading and sharing books is key. In response to building bridges, conducting conversations about current events, and promoting tolerance, here are four YA titles worth reading.


Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) takes place in Mississippi in 1955 in a town next to where Emmitt Till was murdered. The protagonist, 13 year old Rose Lee Carter, is living with her grandmother, working in the cotton fields and dreaming of a better life. The writing is powerful and gets into the heart and mind of a young African American girl struggling between what could be and the violence of what is. This book can be used parallel to primary sources about Emmitt Till, Jim Crow South, and Brown vs. Board of Ed.
Alan Gratz’s Refugee (Scholastic, 2017) tells the story of three different young people who escape their home country for a better life and for safety. One story is of Josef, a young boy living in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994 hoping to safely make it to America and Mahmoud is a Syrian Boy in 2015 looking to escape with his family after the ongoing violence and destruction in his homeland. The three young people are connected in the end but the journey they embark on is harrowing. 9780545880831_mres


The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer & Bray, 2017) is powerful and poignant. After reading Jason Reynold and Brendan Kiley’s All American Boys (Scholastic, 2015), I did not think there would be another book as honest, raw, and gripping for young adults about police violence and brutality. Angie Thomas exceeds my expectations. The book gets at the heart of matter and puts down on paper the difficult questions many are asking about race, violence, and humanity. f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9f41mrnaqoygl-_sy344_bo1204203200_



American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad (Knopf, 2017) is a post apocalyptic story about a divided United States after the Second Civil War breaks out in 2074 and leaves America fractured. The protagonists is young Sarat Chestnut, a tomboy who comes of age during this frightening war torn time. There are so many parallels to what is happening in our world today that will leave the reader with disturbing thoughts about the direction we are heading.

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Adventure Quests: Learning About Current Events & the World

An Adventure Quest is a mission with an objective. A quest is a long and arduous search for something.

Currently, my students are working on an investigative journalism unit, so I created an Adventure Quest based on current events addressed in the news each week.

With the use of ActivelyLearn.com, Twitter, and Google Forms I created a series of Trivia type questions. Each week one question is posted on my Teacher Website and students submit their answers on a Google Form. Each question is worth 50 XP or Experience Points. Additional GP or Gold Points points could be earned by the die- hard fans by going onto Twitter and searching the hashtag #RMS8RQuest to find more Adventure Quest Questions. The student with the most points at the end of the Adventure Quest, earns an additional 1,500 XP Classcraft Points PLUS a Treasure (a gift card).

Each week students log on to Actively Learn and read an Article of the Week. Both the Article of the Week and this Adventure Quest are optional homework.  I do not give homework in my class but encourage students to read to build their reading skills and knowledge about the world.

Actively Learn is a digital reading platform that contains books, articles, poems, and speeches. Students join a “classroom” created by their teacher to read assigned digital texts and complete assignments within the workspace. Actively Learn offers teacher designed assignments with ready made questions or teachers can design their own questions and prompts.

The articles that students have read read for the Adventure Quest include


NPR’s RadioLab Podcast on the Galapagos

Mark Jeffries article on Why We Don’t Wipe Mosquitoes Off the Face of the Earth”

To address International Women’s Day Ann A. Simmon’s article “Women Around the World Still Have a Long Way to Go”

The Twitter quests are not based on readings but events happening in the news that specific day, hence they are worth less points. Twitter questions have included Who did President Obama nominate for Supreme Court? and What Lego mini figure was unveiled this week?

Many of my students have been excited and enthusiastic to participate in the Adventure Quest. It is completely optional and has brought about healthy competition among many of my students.  I have a Leaderboard  or score board posted in my classroom for students to see who is on top.

I am going to have to create a really difficult question to break the quadruple tie that is happening right now!

Adventure Quests are fun side activities for motivated or motivating students to learn about a specific topic. The Adventure Quest that I planned fit seamlessly into my classroom since the trivia questions evolved based on what was happening in current events. Students were reading more and paid attention to what was happening in the news and the world around them.

Adventure Quests can be adapted to any content area. Students are in charge of their own learning and it helps them engage with content material in a new way.

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50 Persuasive Speech & Debate Topics Relevant Today

Each semester I have my students write and present a persuasive speech and participate in two debates.  Over the years I have used a variety of speech topics.  Most of the topics emerge from current events.  For each speech assignment students are given a differentiated list of choices around a specific theme.  Below are 50 of the more recent persuasive speech and debate topics I have used with my students.

I. Research on the Teenage Brain

  • Does video violence effects the teenage brain?
  • Does the internet influence young people to engage in risky behavior?
  • Once bad in math, a person will always be bad at math.
  • Intelligence depends on environmental factors, not genetic factors.
  • Starting school later is beneficial to teenage brain development.
  • Parents who engaged with their children are more likely to excel in school and avoid risky behavior.
  • Teachers need to teach content with the teenage brain in mind.

II. Physical Education and Sports

  • Should physical education be mandatory for all students every day of the school week?
  • Should students on sports teams be required to carry a certain grade point average [GPA] in order to play?
  • Should coaches be required to give equal playing time to athletes at the secondary school level regardless of skills (middle and high school)?
  • Are sports athletes role models?
  • Is mandatory drug testing of all athletes on a secondary, collegiate, and professional level necessary?
  • Are spectator sports overemphasized in America today?
  • Should professional athletes who break the law (via drug use, illegal gambling, domestic abuse, etc.) be banned from their professional sport in addition to doing jail time?
  • Should athletes who have taken performance enhancing drugs be admitted into the Hall of Fame?
  • Should parent-spectators be required to sign a “Spectator Expectation Code of Conduct,” which includes prohibitions against verbal abuse and obnoxious behavior (“Respect all athletes, coaches, officials and fans.”) if their child plays a school sport. Thus, if a parent-spectator is found disrespecting a player, coach or opposing team they should be banned from attending their child’s athletic games.

III. Chew on This: The Obesity Epidemic

  • Are Americans Getting Fatter?  Does it Matter?
  • The McLawsuit: Is the Fast-Food Industry Legally Accountable for Obesity?
  • Do School Cafeterias Contribute to the Rise in Childhood Obesity?
  • Can the growing problem of obesity in the US be reversed?
  • Are Diet Companies in the Business to Help People or to Make a Profit?
  • Are Low-Fat Foods the Healthier Alternatives?
  • Should Sodas and Sugary Snacks be Sold in Vending Machines at Schools and Bake Sales be Banned?
  • Is Obesity a Matter of Individual Responsibility?  Who is Responsible for Controlling Obesity?

IV. National Security and Civil Liberties

  • Does the US federal government have the authority to either detain without charge or search without probable cause?
  • Should all foreigners entering the US be required to leave 2 finger prints and digital photographs of themselves?
  • Should the US deny all foreigners with desires to attend American Universities to further education, whether M.I.T. or flight school?
  • Is domestic wiretapping and surveillance acceptable without a court order?
  • Should a wall be built between Canada and the US and Mexico and the US to keep out all suspected terrorists entering the US illegally?
  • Is the US Patriot Act unconstitutional and jeopardizes civil liberties?
  • Racial profiling:  Is it necessary?
  • Should there be stronger limits on immigration?

V. The First Amendment

  • Controversial T-ShirtsIf a student wears a controversial T-shirt, does the school board have the right to ban offensive and controversial clothing or does the student have the right to wear it under the first amendment?
  • Cyber Bullying StatutesIf a student is bullying someone do they have the right to claim they have freedom of speech to say what they wanted?
  • Posting Videos Online – Is This a Right & Your Freedom of Speech?Does anyone have the right and freedom to post videos online even if the person taking the video does not have permission and the videos are of people in personal or compromising actions – a school fight, personal encounter.

VI. Technology and Education

  • Are desktop computer outdated?
  • Are computer labs unnecessary in schools today?
  • Should students be allowed to use mobile devices in class?
  • Should there be a filter on the internet in school?
  • Are textbooks obsolete?
  • Should teachers friend students on Facebook?
  • Should schools provide technology devices (i.e. tablets or laptops) for all students?

VII. School & Educational Issues

  • School cafeterias should be transformed into food courts with fast food companies supplying meals.
  • Students should be required to wear school uniforms.
  • Schools should shift from a nine month school year to year-round schooling.
  • It should be mandatory that no teacher assign homework over the weekend.
  • Video cameras should be put into all classrooms to record student and teacher interactions at all times.
  • School should begin later in the morning and end later in the day.
  • Foreign Language should not be mandatory.
  • Armed police guards and metal detectors should be installed in every school.
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