Monday, December 22, 2014

But wait! There's more! -- How I Use Infomercials in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Motivational speaking can prove a daunting task to self-conscious teenagers lacking motivation in their own lives.  My students often feel nervous that their peers will judge them for their opinions or that they will forget everything they meant to say.  My motivational speaking unit often lands between my persuasive unit and our team debate, so anxiety runs high as we reach this momentous speech.  A little nervousness is normal and expected, but I began to find students in tears over the pressure of yet another serious speech in front of their classmates.  This year I knew I needed to make a change.

Change does not come easily for me, but I felt sure that I could find a less-stressful -- yet equally valuable -- alternative to a motivational speech.  Then the idea struck.  Infomercials use the same persuasive strategies as formal speeches, and these often-hilarious videos even follow Monroe's Motivated Sequence, the format most widely accepted for motivational speaking.  I decided that an infomercial unit was just what my teens needed.

First, I introduced Monroe's Motivated Sequence to my students and played them several infomercials from YouTube (The Hawaii Chair, Snuggy, ShamWow, and Slap Chop infomercials are some of my personal favorites.).  I asked them to identify the attention, need, satisfaction, visualization, and action for each infomercial, and we discussed how the videos incorporated each of these aspects.

Then I presented their next speech assignment -- Monroe's Motivated Infomercial.  My students invented their own unique products, drafted prototypes, wrote scripts, and filmed their own quirky infomercials using persuasive and motivational techniques.

At the end of the unit, we had an infomercial party and watched the students' videos together.  We had such a fun time laughing together, and nobody felt overwhelmed or judged.  The balance between educational and entertaining was perfect.  You can watch one of their infomercials below:


The variations of this assignment are endless, but this project ranks as one of my favorites so far.  Comment below with your successful public speaking strategies.  I would love to hear your ideas!


Friday, December 5, 2014

The Smaller Desk

Some days I miss the smaller desk 
Where I sat and I listened and learned.
I answered when called upon -- that was enough--
And my teachers' approval I'd earned.
Some days I miss the smaller desk
Where I read when they told me to read.
I wrote when they told me to write.  That was all
That I needed for me to succeed.
Some days I miss the smaller desk
Where I kept just a notebook and pen.
I'd write a few lines that I thought sounded smart,
But if not, I could just try again.
Some days I miss the smaller desk
Where I counted down days 'til I'd leave.
The end was in sight, and my thoughts flew beyond
To the dreams that I knew I'd achieve.
Some days I miss the smaller desk,
For now twenty such desks point at me.
But the bigger desk gives me the chance to become
Who the smaller desk taught me to be.



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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Teaching Greek and Latin Root Words with Photo Shoots



Slap the words "Greek and Latin Etymology" onto any teenager's class schedule, and you will witness a display of dread and terror like never seen before.

"Why would I ever need to speak Greek?"

"Nobody even uses Latin anymore!"

"I can barely speak English good!"

Many kids don't realize that the words they use every day rely heavily on root words from other languages.  They have no clue that much of their online communication and text messaging carries traces of ancient Greek and Latin words.  However, when students learn to identify these root words and their meanings, they not only better understand the origin of the words they use on a regular basis, but also learn to decode hundreds of English words that they may not otherwise understand.

Last year in my English Language Roots class, I decided to have some fun reviewing these roots with my sophomores.  Instead of merely reading definitions or flipping through flashcards, we actually made a Greek and Latin scrapbook!  For each root word, my students set up a mini photo shoot in which they depicted the root's meaning.  I let the students come up with their photo ideas entirely on their own, but I stressed the importance of explaining their picture and how it illustrated the Greek or Latin root.  This made learning the words fun -- and memorable.

At the end of the semester, I designed a scrapbook with the students' photos and sent it out for printing.  Each kid received a book that they could use to study their vocabulary.  This was one of my favorite projects of all time!

Here are a few of my students' root-word photos:

These students represent the root word mort with a crime scene in which a mortality has supposedly occured.



Here students represent the root word bene by acting out the benevolent practice of giving to the poor.


Students represent the root word astro by searching the heavens for the secrets of astronomy.



Do you have any root-word tricks that have worked in your classroom?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comment section below. If you would like to check out my Greek and Latin scrapbook  template, click on the product below!


Teach Greek and Latin roots with fun photo shoots your students will remember!


Friday, November 7, 2014

Percy Shelley, Romanticism -- and BALLOONS!

Once each year, I run my little truck to the local dollar store to buy a bulbous bouquet of balloons for my 18-year-old kiddos in British Lit. In many places, these treats are reserved for primary incentives or preschool parties, but in my classroom, a bunch of bright balloons means it's finally time to culminate our lesson on Percy Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind."  Can I just take a moment to express my love for this inspirational poem?  As a teacher, my dearest dream is to make a difference much larger than myself, to leave a legacy behind me when I'm gone, and to inspire my students to do the same.  If Shelley were alive today, I would give him a big hug and thank him for writing a poem that describes that dream absolutely perfectly.

Back to the balloons.

After we have read Shelley's poem, we discuss the metaphor of the leaves scattered in the wind.  The students gradually realize (after a few blank stares, granted) that because Autumn often symbolizes death, Shelley is speaking about the end of his life.  When he urges the wind to scatter his words like the autumn leaves, he is hoping and praying that the words he spoke and the poems he wrote will someday make a difference that he could never make in his lifetime.  His hopes came true!  We still read this poem and gain inspiration from its verses today.

Next comes the fun part.  I announce that my students will have a chance to spread their words with the west wind, just as in Shelley's poem.  They must think deeply about the legacy they want to leave, the advice they have to give, the experiences that have given them wisdom, and the opinions that they would like to share.  Then they each write brief poems expressing these sentiments, and they place the poems in sealed envelopes.  I punch one hole in each envelope with a hole-punch, give each student a balloon, let them tie the balloon string through the envelope's hole, and take the motley crew outside to the back field.

Teach Percy Shelley to High School Students with Balloons!

We read the last stanza of "Ode to the West Wind" once more, and I announce that it is time for the students to release their inspiration on the world.  Eighteen-years-old or not, these students watch in rapture and amused merriment as the balloons soar into the air.


A student releases balloons in rememberence of "Ode to the West Wind," by Percy Shelley.


If you have tried a similar approach to teaching Romantic poets, or if you have any ideas regarding this activity, please leave a note below in the comment section.

These balloons carry students' inspiring words to others, a new metaphor for Percy Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind."



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How to Make Classy DIY Dry-erase Boards

I know I should be using my time to plan and grade, but I simply canNOT pass up the opportunity for useful DIY projects in my classroom.  This past school year, I decided to experiment with individual dry-erase board ideas for my students, and I came up with an inexpensive solution: 67-cent picture frames from Wal-Mart.  I inserted decorative scrap-booking paper and dabbed a few layers of magnetic paint on the pack, and I was able to store the attractive frames with markers magnetized to the backs.  I loved the unique aesthetic value, as well as the financial bargain!  Take a look through the pictures below, and let me know about any other DIY classroom hacks that have worked for you!

DIY Dry-erase Boards -- Creative English Classroom

DIY Dry-erase Boards -- Creative English Classroom

DIY Dry-erase Boards -- Creative English Classroom

DIY Dry-erase Boards -- Creative English Classroom

DIY Dry-erase Boards -- Creative English Classroom

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

5 Reasons to Promote Publishing in the ELA Classroom

Many teachers devote a classroom bulletin board to the display of exemplary student work.  I have my own version of this "brag wall" for my students, but instead of posting the papers with the highest grades or most impressive quality, I choose student work that has actually been real-world published -- for money.  Here's why:

1.  I want my students to realize that there is more to life than good grades.  Straight-A students know that they're smart, and most get plenty of praise from their teachers already.  However, many successful adults had terrible grades in high school, and many straight-A students have thrown their lives away.  This year I worked with a student who had learning disabilities that made writing especially difficult for her.  I encouraged her to write about those struggles, and she did.  She sent in her story to an inspirational magazine for teens, and even though her verbs weren't conjugated correctly and her commas popped up where they shouldn't, the magazine editor appreciated her story and published it for payment.  Now other teenagers who have the same struggle will read her article and have hope.  That's the kind of thing I'm proud of -- students actually using what talents they have to make a difference.

2.  I want my students to get paid.  Sure, this may sound superficial.  We should write because we want to write, right?  But I have found that an 80-dollar check makes writing suddenly more relevant to a teenager.  I can hardly believe the astonishment on my students' faces each year when I tell them they have the opportunity to make a couple hundred bucks, just for doing their homework in my class.  They ask me to repeat myself, they ask me to clarify, and they ask me to repeat myself again.  They have the hardest time believing that schoolwork could actually lead to their financial success.  Personally, I feel like high school is the best time to learn this truth.  Besides, high-school kids are often either broke or dependent, and I want to teach them how to use their own talents and resources to provide for themselves.  A few paid articles here and there probably won't make them a living, but it's certainly a noble way to earn some extra income!

3.  I want to improve my school's reputation.  Getting students published is obviously good PR for a teacher, but I genuinely want to improve the reputation of my school's program in order for them to attract a larger number of students and donations, as this will lead to even greater success in the future.  Parents want to enroll their students in a program that pushes them to achieve impressive milestones beyond the normal academic expectations.  A program that pushes its students to submit articles for community or national publication will naturally attract more people!  I believe that each teacher should become a team player for his or her school.  This is my way of contributing to our academic community

If any teachers would like to add their own student-publishing successes, please comment below.  I would love to hear from you!



Friday, September 26, 2014

3 Ways to Make Vocabulary Instruction Fun

"Are we playing vocab games today?"
"Hey, can we do vocab today?"

"We're doing vocab!  Yes!"

I love hearing these comments and questions shouted back and forth as my teen-aged students trickle through my classroom door.  In a texting age in which numbers stand for words and one letter can substitute for an entire sentence ("k?"), vocabulary instruction matters now more than ever.  Years ago, I had wonderful high-school English teachers who made class fun with games and activities that we teenagers couldn't resist.  When I finally had my own classroom and my own English classes, I knew that I would do whatever it took to make the English language -- and especially its vocabulary -- even more fun to learn for today's teenagers.  

Here are some of my teens' favorite vocabulary review games:

1.  Vocabulary Charades

My students and I get a lot of laughs with this fun and hilarious game.  Typically, I split up my class into two teams, and each team takes a turn sending up one contestant.  I give the contestant a vocabulary word from our most recent list, and then I set the timer for 30 seconds.  Believe me, when a class sees their friend jumping around on one foot with a box of tissues on her head, they won't forget the anomaly for quite some time!

2.  Slap the Bucket

For classrooms with a high kinesthic-learner rate, this game is almost necessary!  I take my class to they gym (or outside if the weather is irresistible) and have my kids line up around the half-court lines.  I plop a bucket in the middle of the floor and call out a definition from our most recent vocabulary list.  Whoever can run to the bucket, slap it, and yell out the correct word first wins a point for his team!  This game may not explore the words in their context, but a little healthy repetition goes a long way if it's paired with other quality activities.  Even my most distracted students stay focused when I give them this athletic outlet!

3.  Vocab Pictionary

My visual learners love expressing their vocabulary words with pictures.  I often assign vocabulary cartoons, vocabulary posters, and other fun projects of the like, but Vocab Pictionary carries extra intensity for those with a competitive streak.  Again I split the class into two teams and allow the teams to take turns sending up a contestant.  The team gets 30 seconds to guess the vocab word behind its contestant's picture, and again the results leave a lasting impression.

After implementing these and many other vocabulary activities in my classroom, I was pleased, amazed, and impressed to discover that my students' vocabulary-quiz grades almost always averaged higher than 90% as a class.  I certainly can't take credit for their intelligence and creativity, but I do like to think that someday as they sit in their college dorm room, trying to find that perfect word for their impending term paper, they will remember that kid jumping up and down with the tissue box -- and smile.


Find More of My Vocab Games Here!

Vocabulary Games
Make the dictionary come alive with fun for every learning style!