Monday, October 27, 2014

Adding a Little Spice to Classrooms

Adding a Little Spice to Classrooms
By Jill Jenkins
            If you’re mentoring new teachers and observe that their classes lack interacting or engaging activities, here are some suggestions that I have found easy to implement and wildly successful. Many new teachers erroneously believe that elementary, middle school and even high school students learn in the same manner as adults.  They don’t. These ideas might help them develop other ways of reaching young learners.  None of the ideas in this blog are my creations.  They’re ideas I learned from workshops, books, and other colleagues, but they are ideas that I have tried in my classroom and found effective.
Seating Arrangements
            First, classroom desks need to be arranged to facilitate discussion. The traditional seating arrangement of rows of desk facing front is not conducive for discussion. My favorite configuration is the horseshoe or desks on each side of the room facing the center.  The desks are placed in pairs to facilitate pair-share activities and the front two desks can be turned around to face the row behind them to create groups of four.  The reason I like this is not only does it easily transform from pair-share activities to small group discussion, but the teacher has easy access to each individual student.  This means that the teacher can easily move close to a student who needs more individualized instruction, and can quiet a disruptive student without distracting the rest of the class.  Proximity can increase a student’s attention and decrease disruptive behavior. When a student becomes disruptive, the teacher can stand next to the student or behind him.  If a student is struggling, the teacher can move next to the child, and kneel down to be face to face to quietly provide added instruction without that student losing face. 
            Never allow students to select their own seat.  If there is a set of disruptive students, separate them.  If there is a struggling student, seat him next to a bright, but kind student who might help him.  If there are two socially insecure students who depend on each other, put them together.  The seating chart is a social chess board. Use it carefully.
Sentence Structure Jigsaw Games
            One of the goals in a language arts class is to help students develop more sentence variety in their writing.  The first step is to make them aware of the different sentence structures.  First put signs on the board: Simple Sentence, Compound Sentence, Complex Sentence, Compound-complex Sentence.  Second, define each sentence structure and give them an example.  It is best to give them a silly example.  For example:
·         Simple Sentence: one independent clause: Bob kissed Alice.
·         Compound Sentence: two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction: Bob kissed Alice and Alice slapped Bob.
·         Complex Sentence: one dependent clause and one independent clause with a subordinating conjunction: When Bob kissed Alice, Alice slapped Bob.
·         Compound-complex Sentence: two dependent clauses and two independent clauses (two complex sentences): When Bob kissed Alice, Alice slapped Bob; however, when Bob kissed Mary, Mary hugged him.
As the teacher reviews each sentence types, she asks each pair of students to create an example and share it with the rest of the class.

            Next give each pair of sentence a sentence strip containing a sentence and let them decide which kind of sentence it is and tape it under the appropriate sign.  If the pair is confused, allow them to call on “the circle of help.” This means any other student in the room who they call on can help them decide which category it belongs to.  Each pair must explain why they placed the sentence where they did.  If a student disagrees with their selection or if the teacher disagrees, there can be a discussion to clarify which kind of sentence they have selected.
            Next the teacher instructs the students to move into groups of four.  She gives each group a set of laminated sentence pieces that they are to unscramble and create a compound-complex sentence.  They are to present their jigsaw puzzle to the class after they solve it.  Below are some examples of sentence strips.

Applying What They Have Learned
            The ultimate goal is to apply this to their writing.  To do them ask them to use each of the four sentence types in their next essay.  After they complete their rough draft, have them trade papers with their learning partner.  The partner is given highlighters and asked to highlight:
·         Simple Sentences yellow
·         Compound Sentences blue
·         Complex Sentences orange
·         Compound-complex Sentences Green
            To increase their variation of sentence length have them count the number of words in each sentence.  When their papers are returned asked the students to revise their papers so they use all of the different sentence types and have some sentences from 5-7 words, some from 7-15 words and some with more than 15 words.
Flash Card Frisbee
            To help students learn literary terms, begin with a pair and share activity. The teacher defines each term and gives the students examples either from popular products names or advertisements or from popular music. Then ask each pair to identify another example of that term and share it with the class.  This is a quick method to see if students understand the terms and help them if they are confused. 
            One of the activities that useful for reviewing literary terms or vocabulary words is Flash Card Frisbee.  If the teacher has access to an I-Pad and an I-TV, upload any of many flash card application put terms that students need to know.  Put a link on the school’s webpage and students can practice on their smart phones or computers at home, but many of them won’t.  To help those students, project the flash cards on a screen and throw a soft, foam Frisbee to one of the students. (Use the soft foam type because students like to use them as weapons and bounce the Frisbee off some unaware students’ head.  This way the students remain alert without injuring anyone.)  The student defines the term and throws the Frisbee another student to try the next term. If an I-pad is not available, same thing, just read the definition to the student.

Vocabulary Basketball
            A variation on this kind of review is Vocabulary Basketball.  Collect small buckets (ice cream buckets work well.) and label them with the vocabulary words or the literary terms.  Line the students up in two teams.  Read the definition of term, an example of the term or a sentence with the term missing and the two students compete by throwing a small basketball into the corresponding bucket.  The team the gets most answers correct gets to leave the class first or earns a piece of candy.
Vocabulary Bingo
            Create laminated Bingo cards using the literary terms or the vocabulary words.  Give each student a handful of jelly beans to cover the appropriate  word when they hear the definition.  Read examples of the terms, definitions or sentences with the words missing.  The students cover the appropriate words with jelly beans.  The first student to completely cover his card with jelly beans wins.

Fly Swatter Vocabulary Tag
            As a teacher invest in a couple of plastic fly swatters.  Write the literary terms or vocabulary words on the board.  Separate the class into two teams.  Each team sends one contestant to the starting line.  The teacher reads a definition, an example, or a sentence with a word missing.  The two contestants run to the board armed with flyswatters.   The first contestant to correctly swat the appropriate term wins a piece of candy.
The Pass-Around Poem
            To help students apply the literary terms to a poem, the pass-around poem is an excellent activity. The teacher begins by reading Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce Et Decorum est.  (I happen to like this poem, but really any poem will work.)  After reading the poem, the teacher explains what mustard gas is and how it was used in World War I. Since most of them may be unaware of mustard gas and World War I, this is important. The teacher tells the students about Wilfred Owen’s life as a soldier.  Next the teacher distributes a copy of the poem to each student and asks them to write their name on it.  Armed with highlighters and pens, the students highlight any literary device that they find interesting, label it with the pen and describe how it makes them feel or what it makes them think about.  The teacher rings a bell and each student passes his paper to the student to his right.  This time the students can repeat what they did on the last paper or they can comment on a comment already on the paper.  The bell rings and the papers is passed to the right again.  When the class period is over the paper should have circulated the room and returned to its original owner.  It is important to set up a few guidelines.  Remind them they are having a discussion about the impact of a poem.  Just like an oral discussion inappropriate comments and vulgar language are not acceptable. This particular activity forces everyone to actively engage and is especially useful for the introverted students who do not feel comfortable engaging in oral discourse. 

In Conclusion
            New teachers need to understand that these activities will be more exciting if they keep their energy levels high.  The teacher needs to cheer for students’ efforts and give students many high fives, or thumbs up for student achievement.  Teachers are both the cheerleader and the game show host. Teachers should expect to leave work completely exhausted after one of these activities.  If your teachers are hoping to have a quiet, docile classroom, they are in the wrong business.  They should become a librarian. (Never mind, the latest television program shows the librarians saving the world.)  If teachers want to have an exciting classroom where all of the students are engaged and interactive, try these activities.   Adding a little spice can help new teachers improve student understanding and discipline.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Teaching Honor

Teaching Honor
By Jill Jenkins
            The new Common Core Curriculum includes a list of learning goals that each teacher in four disciplines are required to teach, but it is not the only goals teachers can choose to teach.  When my former school district embarked on implementing the new Common Core, I served on a committee to design an approach for its adoption. The committee decided to adopt a variation of the Gates Foundation Units.  The Gate Foundation has designed six units for each grade level that incorporate the learning goals of the Common Core.  Since I taught ninth grade in a school with four quarter per year, obviously I could not teach each unit per grading period, so I decided to combine two.  The two that I combined during the second quarter was the non-fiction and the honor units.  Furthermore, teaching students to behave ethically seems a huge improvement over only teaching learning skills.  I adapted the following unit for my ninth grade language arts classes. 

            To teach any theme, a teacher needs to incorporate a variety of mediums, and activities.  I included film clips, webpages, articles from magazines, and a novel.  The student had to view film clips, discuss, read fiction and non-fiction, and compose a variety of writing assignments including a research paper and meta-cognition paper. I hoped that when we completed the unit, all of the students would know how to find specific information, synthesize it into a coherent essay on honor using M.L.A. parenthetical footnotes and a work cited page.  One of the problems I had encountered in the past was students did not know the difference from using evidence to support an idea and copying and pasting information they had collected on-line, thus creating a collage of quotes and data.  I hoped also that the students would understand how behaving in an altruistic way benefits everyone.

            I began by having my students view 60 Minutes “Operation Proper Exit” , a story about the sacrifices three, injured soldiers had made. I used this particular film clip because the soldiers are all young, have suffered traumatic injuries trying to rescue other soldiers and their stories are told in an emotional manner making the clip memorable to ninth grade students. During the next class period, I  showed my students a website from John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Library and Museum  that describes John F. Kennedy’s heroic efforts to save his crew when PT 109 sank.  I chose to use this particular website, because the Common Core requires that students study John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address and most of the students have no knowledge of who John F. Kennedy was. On the third class period, I showed this You Tube Video of Captain Richard Phillips  telling his story of his capture by Somali pirates.  The fact that Tom Hanks had recently released a movie about this story increased the students’ interest. A variety of other videos are available including clips from the movie.  The internet is full of human interest stories about people who have behaved in honorable ways.  Any of these stories would work easily as well.  After the student read or viewed each example, I put them into groups of three or four students and asked them to define the term “honor” and identify three specific characteristics that one would have to display to act honorably.  Each group reported back to the class and as a class, the definition and the characteristics were agreed upon through consensus.  I recorded these on the board.  Next, I had them return to their groups and identify the specifically behavior exhibited that made that person honorable.  What did they do?  When each group reported back, I would question them to help them identify specific information.

After the students had recorded all of their findings, I gave each student a copy of the a detailed outline breaking the essay into an introductory paragraph with a lead, a definition of honor, three supporting behaviors and a conclusion; three paragraphs in the body where they discussed three separate people and how they behaved honorable, and a concluding paragraph. Using the document camera, I modeled writing the essay while questioning the students how might we best present this idea? One difficulty that many students had was to include any analysis after they presented an example of honorable behavior. To alleviate this problem I pointed out that each paragraph in the body of the paper should include:

  • ·         A topic sentence: Who behaved honorably?

  • ·         Three characteristics 

  • ·         An example of the person’s behavior for each of the three characteristic

  • ·         An explanation of why that behavior is honorable

The paper then became a collaborative effort.  After we composed the first two paragraphs, I put the students back into their groups to compose the remaining paragraphs of their rough draft of an essay about honor.
            On the fourth day, I showed the students how to create M.L.A. parenthetical footnotes and works cited page for all of the different kinds of sources we had used over the last few days.  While the students worked on their rough drafts I circulate and help struggling students.  By the end of the period, each student had a rough draft with footnotes and  a works cited page. 

            On the fifth day, they turned in their practice research paper, and we read and watched John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.  I used the speech to talk about honor and to show them how using parallel construction and a combination of longer sentences and shorter sentences can build emotion in a speech or in writing.  Then I showed them the first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, to look at the parallel construction.  Finally I showed them my own version of Charles Dickens’ paragraph:
            It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
            It was the age of Vietnam; it was the age of Haight-Ashbury.
            It was the epoch of sit-ins; it was the epoch of assassinations.
            It was the season of race riots; it was the season of love-ins.
            It was the spring of draft card burnings; it was the winter of Saigon.
            We had Kent State Shootings before us; we had My Lia Massacre before us.
            We were all going directly to Woodstock; we were all going directly to boot-camp.
            In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of the noisiest             authorities were ousted from some of the highest positions, for some of the most             corrupt actions.
Each student wrote his/her own parody of Charles Dickens' paragraph about his/her own life. They were hilarious.  We spent a class period sharing their creations. I suggested that they use at least one example of parallel construction in their upcoming writing assignment.
            After the first week we were ready to take on the three difficult parts of the unit.  First reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee where the class spend a great deal of time discussing how Atticus, Jem, Boo Radley and Calpurnia all behave in ways that could be considered honorable.  How they each made sacrifices to the greater good without concern about what price they might pay. Furthermore, the students were asked to write a research paper about honor. They had to read a biography or autobiography on one person, and research on the other two historical persons were done on the internet or in the library.  The paper included correct M.L.A parenthetical footnotes and a works cited page.  We spend  five days in the library spread out over two weeks, but what they didn't finish in class, had to be completed at home.  They also had to complete a service project and write a one page meta-cognition paper about what they learned from the research paper and participating in a service project. I have attached below the detailed paper I gave my students and the rubric that I used to grade them. 
            This is an abridged version of all of the small steps I took to complete the unit, but it gives you an idea of many of the highlights.   (A tops report is a report from Accelerated Reading, a computerized program my school used where students would read books and instead of writing a book report, they took a 10-20 question quiz on the book.)
            The unit can synthesize many of the learning goals of the common core, but it also teaches values.  I used to think that value education was inappropriate because whose values should we represent;however,  in today's world, I think teaching ethics is the most important issue we teach in schools.  I had one reluctant learner who had not completed his project.  I had told them that serving others could be serving your family or neighbors.  I gave my students the example that as a single parent after a long day of teaching, I was delighted to discover that my daughter had cleaned our cottage and prepared dinner.  To prevent a failing grade in Language Arts, this six foot four inch line-backer baked cookies for each of the people in his elderly neighborhoods and delivered baskets of cookies to them.  His mother thanked me for forcing him to complete the project.  She said he finally learned that being a neighbor means giving back, not just taking.  That is what we want our students to learn.  
Research Paper and Term Project
·       Requirements:
o  Title page:  Title, Name, Period, Date, and Illustration
o  Three to five page body with six to nine parenthetical footnotes using the MLA method of documentations
o  Work Cited Page
o  Tops Report or Book Report if no AR test is available from a Biography or Autobiography on a person who behaved with honor
·       Prompt:  What is honorable behavior?  Define honor and identify three characteristics that a person would have to exhibit to consider his/her behavior as honorable.  Find three historical persons who have behaved ethical.  Using warrants identify what specific behavior that person did and explain how that makes the person honorable.  Make sure you support each of the three characteristics with specific behaviors and analysis of the behavior.  Include three paragraphs that refute how others might believe that the three people did not behave honorable. 
·       Read a biography or autobiography on one of the people that you have selected and take an AR test or a Book Report if no AR test is available. Write a three to five page research paper with nine to twelve parenthetical footnotes using the MLA method of documentation.
·       Your sources should include the biography that you have read, other books, inter-net sources, but all must be reliable.  Note Wikipedia and Blogs will not be acceptable as they are not reliable.  Yahoo and Google are search engines, not sources.  Using them is like saying…”I found it in the library.”  This applies to everyone, even those who consider themselves cute and charming.
·       Due Dates:
o  Research cards: (nine sources and nine quotes)________________/180
o  Outline _______________________/100
o  Rough Draft/Peer Editing _____________________________/100
o  Final Copy ___________________________600
o  Tops Report ________________________100

Title Page







Three Characteristics


Thesis Statement

Character One
Three Characteristics


Supporting Examples


Analysis of Examples



Character Two
Three Characteristics


Supporting Examples


Analysis of Examples



Character Three
Three Characteristics


Supporting Examples


Analysis of Examples




Transition Words and organized information

No 1st of 2nd person

Word Choice
Formal language

Sentence Fluency
No Run-On , No Fragments, A Variety of  Sentence Length, A variety of sentence structures

Grammar, punctuation, usage, capitalization


Works Cited Page
With 9-12 entries using MLA

Double Spaced
12 point  Times Roman font
1” margins

Tops Report



Term Project
.  Participate in a service project.  Find a project to complete in our community.  You may go with a partner or group of students, but you must have a parent or adult go with you.  Write a one-page paper describing what you did, and reflect on what you have learned from the experience.  Finally, have either a parent or the organization sign it to verify your work.  (100 points)

·          Help serve meals to the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul Center (363-7710, ext. 1418), or at any other homeless shelter in our community.
·         Donate time to a religious organization providing food or assistance to the homeless or hungry.
·         Organize a food drive in your neighborhood and deliver the items to the Utah Food Bank.
·         Have a yard sale with others in your neighborhood.  Donate the proceeds and unsold items to your favorite charity.
·         Sort food and build orders at the Utah Food Bank (978-2452).
·         Help offset elderly residents’ utility bills through Lend-A-Hand/Rocky Mountain Power Utility Assistance Program (800-328-9272).
·         Knit warm hats and scarves for low-income and homeless families at Crossroads Urban Center (359-8837).
·         Provide and prepare evening meals for families at the Ronald McDonald House; contact Beth (363-4663).
·         Write stories to help adults learn to read and write; Literacy Action Center (326-8101).
·         Help senior citizens and people with disabilities with yard work, raking, etc.
·         Visit and organize a campaign among your family members to assist other families in Africa.
·         Visit and find out about service opportunities in your area.
·         If you have an idea of your own, please speak with your Language Arts Teacher

Name:  ___________________________________________________________________  Period:  __________

Acting Honorably

(25 points)
1.  Does your project help people who are currently experiencing the effects of poverty (lack of food, clothing, or shelter)?
2.  Does your project help people improve their life skills, or alleviate current hardships they may be experiencing?
3.  Is the purpose of your project something other than” just trying complete something easy for this assignment?"

(25 points)
1.  Does your project require you to organize and/or coordinate the project?
2.  Does your project require you to contact a community organization to arrange how and when you could be of assistance to the poor or needy?
3.  Does your project require that you do something more than simply "show up" to work?

(25 points)
1.  Have you completed a minimum of five hours of actual assistance to others?
2.  Have you completed the time sheet thoroughly?
3.  Does your time sheet have the appropriate information and signatures?

(25 points)

1.  Does your summary clearly explain the purpose, organization, and commitment required to complete your project?
2.  Does your summary explain what you learned?
3.  Does your summary provide a brief comparison between the purpose of your project and how it may differ from the circumstances of your life?

Name:  _________________________________________________________________  Period:  ____________