Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Understading Poetry by breaking down Stanzas

Understanding poetry can be tough for students. Understanding older poetry can be very difficult. The vocabulary tends to be antiquated and the examples no longer relevant to the lives students lead.

It doesn't need to be though!

Following is my four step method for helping students understand poetry, though you could also use it for other types of literature.

The examples used here are from Edward Fitzgerald's translation of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam." You can find the worksheets I use with my class as well as detailed reactions available on Teachers Pay Teachers (or by clicking the product cover to the right.

On the other hand you can create your own. Just adapt the following to best suit the literature the needs of your students.

Step 1
Go over the first stanza in the poem. Read it out loud and highlight any words you need to look up. Look up the words and decide the definition that best fits Write that down, so you'll remember it later Now that you know all the words draw the best literal interpretation of the poem that you can. Stick figures are great!  Now that you have the literal meaning,

Step 2
Show you really understand your literal meaning by drawing out a representation of your text. Stick figures and labels are fine for the less artistically challenged. If there's a lot going on, break into into a four grid and draw it out like a comic strip.

This really helps the artistic students shine, and the less artistic still get a chance to really cement their  understanding. Plus, when this is done in groups the discussions are GREAT. Students give input to one another on making things bigger, or brighter, etc.

Step 3
Now that we've got literal in the bag, see if students can identify the big idea and theme of the story. Have students take a step back and see what the stanza is trying to tell them. In one or two sentences they write what they think the meaning is. To really drive it in, they also title their individual quatrain.

Step 4
An example using Canva and PhotosforClass
This is the fun part! Students create their own stanza embracing the meaning of the original work. They can practice mimicking the rhyme scheme of the Rubiayat and modernize the stanza.

No Tech: This can be done on paper, cardstock or anything really! Then you can post them around the classroom and see if students can identify the poem as an adaptation of the correct stanza.

Low Tech: Have students create their stanza on Paint,  PowerPoint, or online, consider using Canva. If they are cell phones and tablets they can use free apps like Canva or Phonto. If they get pictures online I STRONGLY encourage I am a big digital citizenship nerd, and this gives them pictures that are legal to use AND already cited. Students can print these and again post them around the room to other students to guess.
A not-student-made version that modernizes a stanza

High Tech: Have students create their images online (use the sites suggested in low-tech). Then post these online! I like having students use a Haiku discussion board for this. Students will need an html of their picture. They can get this if they use Canva, or they can upload it to TinyPic or PostImage. Students (in groups) can analyze the modern interpretations and try to guess which stanza it is based off of.

I usually follow this activity up with some traditional comprehension questions that students breeze through! Once they have analyzed a stanza and seen how other students modernize the other stanzas, it really makes understanding easier.

Want more to do with The Rubaiyat? One topic I really like delving into is the fact that in his time Khayyam was best known for his science not his art. Do students think art helps scientists be better? Here's a nonfiction text with multiple choice questions and a writing prompt.

Students tend to hold a bias that artists can't be scientifically smart and scientists can't be creatively skilled, so it is fun to really dive into this discussion with them and have them apply it to Khayyam's works.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Quizlet Live 101

I am a long time user of Quizlet. I adore it for independent practice, and while I have sometimes tried to play their games in class (using a white board and volunteer), it hasn't been the easiest.

Just this week I got the e-mail about Quizlet live and I was PSYCHED.

My students and I had just read Gabriel Marquez' The Handsomest Man in the World, and we had about ten minutes left of class. I told them I wanted to try out a new site and asked if they wanted to give it a shot with me. They said sure

So, with very little prep and almost no time reviewing the vocabulary words. I jumped onto Quizlet! Within minutes my students were ready to play (either on laptops or cell phones), and by the end of class (seven minutes later), they were all up and out of their desks near their team actively cheering each other on and  mastering vocabulary together. SUCH A GREAT moment.

If you're a video person, here's a video of how it works.

In short

What is it?
A game students can play in teams that helps them review vocabulary together.

What do I need?
Each student needs internet connection and their own device. Cell phones, tablets, etc all worked fine when we tried.

Is is like Kahoot? Do they need to see my board/screen?
No! Unlike Kahoot, students will be looking at their screen and their screen only, so there's no need for a projector.

How do they win?For every answer they get right they get a point. If they get an answer wrong they lose all their points and start again. The first team to answer every word correctly WINS! The risk of getting zeroed out keeps them from randomly guessing, and keeps the students who are slower still in the game until the very end.

How is this different than other online games we already play?
This is similar to many teacher games in that the students do NOT need a login (wohoo!). This game requires more teamwork than other games. I have used Kahoot and Socrative for group work before, but Quizlet Live students CANNOT play without a group. Granted, they don't need to collaborate with their group. When my students started and the game said to move and sit with their groups they declined... that seemed like a lot of work. However, minutes of the game starting, they were walking around trying to fin their group to help one another.I was (pleasantly) shocked.

Can I use it as a test?I wouldn't. However, at the end it does tell you what words students are confusing and what words students understand. So, it can be used a way for you to evaluate how your class is doing.

How do I do it?
The video will walk you through it. I threw my students in the deep end and they managed to swim, but to make things run a bit smoother I probably would have done the Quizlet demo with them the first time.

There you go! A student tested and teacher approved game that can require very little prep (similar to Kahoot you can use public Quizlets that others have created). To be the best part is that students can continue using Quizlet individually to review if they realized in class they need more practice.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

First Folio Workshop

San Diego is getting a GREAT delivery this June. In honor of Shakespeare's 400th birthday the San Diego Library (in conjunction with the San Diego Old Globe Theater) will be showing off Shakespeare's First Folio from June 4th to July 7th.

The volume will be on view in the Art Gallery at the San Diego Central Library! Most of the San Diego public programs for adults and families will be available then. However, to accommodate the fact that many schools will be finishing up in June, they are putting together some teacher professional development now!

There are more events going on, so if you are an English, Drama, History or really ANY teacher who delves in Shakespeare in the greater San Diego area I would strongly encourage you to look into this.
What would you do? 
First off this is HANDS ON. So be prepared to participate. Bring paper and such to take notes if you like, but you'll leave with quite a few activities AND you'll have actually tried these activities.

Many activities are from Shakespeare Set Free:books.
(This is an affiliate link; if purchased I get a small percentage)
Who is it for?
I am a high school English teacher. I teach students who are weaker in English. I am often labeled the ESL teacher, but this isn't quite true. While my students do receive more grammar and vocabulary than other English classes, we are still a literature class.

I walked away with quite a few resources and different ways to implement ideas in my classroom this week! If you teach drama or any of Shakespeare;s plays I am sure you'll be able to take away something useful.

OK... but like really. What did you do?

SO MUCH! I'll give you my top three.
1. Learn about the first folio. For example, did you ever have a teacher tell you that punctuation in Shakespeare is SO important. Well this will delve into the history including the fact that we don't actually know how Shakespeare wanted to punctuate his plays (say what??). You'll briefly be introduced to the folio and quartos (the bootlegged versions).  You'll also learn what plays we would have lost if we didn't have the First Folio.

2. As teacher with many struggling readers, I know that one of the best ways to help them comprehend a text is to have them read it...again...and again...and least three times. But who has time for that? This went over some easy ways to get students to read 
  • Choral- Everyone read at the same time. It's not just for repetition anymore! As a trained English Language Teacher, this is something I was encouraged to use a lot for new words, or small phrases. The advantage being everyone gets to "feel the words in their mouth" without feeling like everyone is listening to them. It also means they can hear their peers. The cons of course are that some students don't actually read, and (with longer texts) there's a fear of it sounding like the Hogwarts song (with everyone singing to their own tune and thus sending at different times). Despite my fear, it normally goes better than I would have anticipated
  • Whose line is it anyways? Have students take turns reading until the end of the line. Those who have studied Shakespeare more than I have know that the last word of each line tends to have special importance. Without emphasizing this to students have them draw their own conclusions by reading around with each student reading to the end of the tine. I will say one con to this is very nervous students may spend so much time figuring out which line is theirs and practicing in their head that they do not listen to anyone else.
  • And Breathe Read until an ending punctuation mark (! . ?) Some of his lines end mid thought and it may be difficult for students to stop. Instead read until the end of a thought and then have the next student pick up.
  • Spy Vs Spy Do one of the previous, but divide the class into groups. So half the class read the first line, the second half the second line, first half the third line. This is especially powerful for soliloquies as students may be able to see the internal argument clearer.
  • Small Groups Again, pick any of the above but have them read in small groups. This makes them a bit more accountable, and more easily lets them go straight to in group analysis.
3. Slash! 
We edited our own Shakespeare! After looking at the differences between different versions we were given the power of the red pen and in groups got together to cut down a scene. A really great activity that made us focus on what we wanted to keep and why. I know my group in particular had a discussion that included me saying "This is like the Han Shot First debacle. If we cut the line it changes motivation" While no one in my group proved to be as much of a Star Wars geek as I am... they decided if I was that passionate the line should stay. This activity was great for ANY text, and I'll be adapting it for The Great Gatsby this week!

Finally, we were given TONS of resources and handouts etc. I haven' had a chance to go through all of the links, but I am in love with
The Free Teaching Modules from Folger


There are still have a few openings for an upcoming 2-Hour Teacher workshop this Saturday, March 5th, at the San Diego Public Library from 10:00am to 12:00pm.

If you can't make that, or if it fills too quickly, check out the other great events at the First Folio San Diego website.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Growth Mindset Example

I've been so busy these last few weeks, but here's a quickie for you.

I was watching Independence Day the other day and thought, "This is a GREAT example of Growth Mindset."

1-7 seconds - Oops! A mistake was made
8-12 seconds- A good-hearted laugh is given! We all make mistakes, right?
13-15 seconds- This is actually the part I don't like. He blames someone else, and his partner is NOT supportive.
16-22 seconds- Change what you did before! Learn from mistakes.
23-33 seconds- Have FUN!

So there you are, for anyone presenting on Growth Mindset or trying to find a fast and easy example, I think this is a GREAT one.

Granted, I understand there is more to it than this, but it's a great start.

What's your favorite example?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

So Cal Bloggers Winter Freebie Blog Hop -All Summer in A Day

Can you tell I LOVE San Diego?

My Dutch View
For those that don't know, I spent the vast majority of my twenties living abroad. I adored hopping from place to place.

I LOVED actually living new cultures and really getting to know different cities and the cultures that make them unique.  I got to live in The Netherlands, Spain, Korea, Turkey, Mexico and visit so many more wonderful places!

For a long time it was really hard for anyone to think of me as coming home for more than a summer. I lived in such GORGEOUS places with such wonderful people and got to visit other countries at the drop of a hat! What's not to love?

 Nonetheless, a special part of my heart was always in San Diego. This blog hop is filled with other teachers who share my love! For those of you who have been hopping, you know the drill! Each blogger will share why they LOVE Souther California, and then link to a freebie. Once you've snagged it, you can keep hopping to the next teacher! There are SIXTEEN for teachers from third through eighth grade, so that's plenty of freebies for you.

Plus, there's a contest, so be sure to read until the bottom!

Two years ago I moved back home and I couldn't be happier. While my all time favorite part of living here is my family, I'll be honest and say the thing that I missed the most when abroad was the food! It isn't just the quality of food in Southern California, but the variety.

I LOVE that I can have Vietnamese pho for breakfast, then hit a Mexican (as in Mexico City) place for Micheladas, and have Ethiopian food for dinner (not pictured). What an AWESOME place to live, right?

Of course it isn't just the food, I also adore the diversity my classroom brings. I love when I ask students who are studying Martin Luther King if anyone has been to a Baptist church and hands spring up!

When we study the rhetoric used in poems about immigration, many of my students can tell their own stories of coming to America!

But the best part is that San Diego has COMPLETELY spoiled me with awesome weather! I am a big wimp for anything under 80 degrees! Sadly so it my cat. When the weather gets cooler he is the first to curl up by the fireplace or heater despite his fur.

This was me in November!
As a result, I figured I'd offer a freebie that most teachers can use whether they be teaching third grade or tenth! All Summer In a Day is a great short story to read especially if there's a blizzard or rain pouring! Students can really get into the characters' brains as they long for sunshine.

I use ink pinks with my fast finishers. I create a bunch before each unit that use the vocabulary words in our unit.

For example here's an All Summer in a Day packet that includes an Ink Pink worksheet. I have taught All Summer in a Day to fifth grades through high school! It is a simple short story, but filled with figurative language, topic starters and a great lesson for any ages.

As for the Ink Pinks, you can do these as a class, or use them for fast finishers. Despite their juvenile appearance, they are GREAT at helping students use their critical thinking skills and, depending n the level, reinforce or introduce new vocabulary.  Download your free page here and have fun!


Teacher Ms. HWell I hope you had fun! Hopefully you've enjoyed the freebies you have found so far. The next blog is with Teacher Ms. H has one too. Check out her blog to see what she loves about San Diego and find her freebie.

Don't forget to enter for your chance to win!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, January 15, 2016

Grading Made Easier

All teachers grade. It is an inevitable part of life. In some ways technology has made things MUCH easier. 

When it comes to assessments, I really believe that the sooner students get feedback, the better.

Somehow online grading has REALLY helped me with this. My school uses Haiku and students turn things in there. In the past  I'd often take grading on "field trips," you know the drill...I'd pack it up, drive it home, take it inside, and do nothing. In the end, I'd end up taking the papers back to work with one (if at all) graded.

Electronically I am able to take my laptop almost anywhere and grade with downtime. Many of the places I accept work have built in rubrics. TurnItIn, Haiku and even Goobric works for those of you who use Google documents.

With the rubrics right there I find I can grade them faster plus make notes as needed and then send it back. Since there is no physical "handing back" once I have made my notes I am done. I don't need to make the time to pass things back in class.

Not handing back is already a HUGE time saver (no alphabetizing, no putting things in students' folders, just send!). 

It's also important to consider what the purpose of the grade is. Is it a draft where lots of feedback will help? A homework assignment we will discuss in class and I just want to see that they've done some preparation? Sometimes I can "cheat" when grading. Give a credit or no credit grade. 10/10 if they did everything right. 7/10 if they did most of it right 5/10 if they didn't follow directions or it is incomplete 0/10 for cheating or nothing. I leave notes as well, but this basic "rubric" keeps things streamlined.

Finally, and students know this. I rarely assign "answer questions 1-10 from the textbook" But when I do...I don't grade them all. I randomly pick two questions I'll grade. If they explained those two questions completely (which is more important to me than right or wrong), and the rest seem completed they get full points. If not, I actually go through and read the rest to determine. 

They could get lucky and have those two be the only ones they did well, but mostly it is an easy way for me to see if they have the right idea without reading every answer. We always take time to go over answers in class, so really I am just checking that they are coming to class prepared.

What grading tips do you have?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Zombies and Teamwork

In addition to my year long English courses I teach two semester classes. As the new year starts, I begin a new class as well: speech!

I LOVED taking speech as a student, so it is really fun to teach it now.

As most of my readers know, many of my students do not speak English as their first language. Sometimes this isn't an issue, and they are motivated to speak, write, and read in English. In other cases however, there is a tendency to use as little English as possible. As a result, I use an adapted version of a team building activity I love. The point? To show them that they don't need to rely on language...period. love using this to start my speech class as it focuses on nonverbal skills (something many students lack). It also builds their teamwork (key since this class involves LOTS of  group projects). Finally, it involves some critical thinking which I feel is always a plus.

Without going into too much detail, students are divided into groups of three to four and the dire situation is explained. The tower that normally keeps the zombies away has fallen and it is up to this group of students to reassemble it without going into the zombie zone.

Of course, as zombies are VERY sensitive to noise, they must work in complete silence with absolutely NO talking.

Students are graded based on their teamwork, their ability to follow the rules, and whether or not they complete the mission.

To be honest, this is an old activity (though I used to teach it with nuclear issues instead of zombies). I wasn't sure how it would go with my students. I hit a few speed bumps early on. Normally, I use hula-hoops taped to the ground as the city barrier, but my trusty dollar store was out, so I taped off squares instead (amusing since all of my directions stated circles, but students got it).

You can download a free preview of the Zombie Teamwork activity at TeachersPayTeachers which basically explains the concept in more details, but here's a step by step guide of setting your classroom up.


You can use a lot of things to make this happen, but you NEED string, cups, and rubber bands (the rubber bands should be able to expand to go around the cups). You can give the students pre-cut string, or one loooooong piece and scissors.

Other things you'll need
  • A way to make an enclosed section (hula hoop taped to the ground, chalk, tape, etc.). 
  • Random school supplies (You don't NEED this, but I like to give the students random things and see what they can do. Today they had: Velcro strips, pennies, paper clips, a high lighter, pencil erasers, pencils, and binder clips

  • I also like to put little Lego men inside the city. I would put zombies inside, but I don't have any zombie toys, so I tell my students the zombies are invisible.
Set Up
  •  You'll need space. I don't like the groups to be much bigger than four students, and each group needs at least 3 square feet to work in. Spread them out so they aren't sitting on top of one another. Each group gets a "city" The cities should all be the same size and have three cups inside, Lego men inside, and a cup or box with all of their supplies nearby.
  • I didn't get a chance to this time, but you can usually score some really cheap zombie decor after Halloween. Anything you can throw in the room gives it that extra appeal. My students likes my DANGER ZOMBIE INFESTATION signs I had on the door and around the classroom.
  • I leave copies of the directions (one per group) by their city as well.
 Buy In
  • I HAVE taught this class without speaking, but for my students this year we walked through the directions. They were intrigued from the start! I am glad I went with zombies this year...the topic definitely caught their attention.
Depending on the group of students you have, there are MANY different ways to have them build the tower. Have it be a three cup pyramid, or a six cup pyramid. Have one student be blind-folded etc. There are more variations discussed in detail in the pack, but get creative!

Walking around I was really impressed with my students. They were working together, getting creative and learning from their mistakes.

What did students think? One of my favorite parts of this lesson is the debriefing where they can sit and reflect on what they did and why they did it. Here are some of the insights my students shared with me:

"I learned that communication is more than just the words that come out of our mouth. It is also what we do with our bodies"

"I learned that I can get things done if I just put my mind to work."

"I solved most of the problems we had not talking by paying more attention and not being lazy. Basically, I had to think harder" 

The best part? A student who stopped by after class, "I just wanted to tell you that your class was really fun today!" Well heck! That makes it a better day.

If you have a new batch of students in January and want a fun activity, or you think your students would do well with some practice in group work. This is a great zombie download for you. Until the 6th it is only $2.20 (that's 20% off the normal price of $2.75). Try it out and let me know what your students think.

If you don't have it in your budget right now, enter to win below! You get one free entry just for reading! You can earn more by tweeting or pinning. The contest opens the fifth and closes the tenth!

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