Saturday, October 10, 2015

Harlem Renaissance Essay

The variety of Harlem Renaissance writers we have read in this class expressed different attitudes towards their experiences as black Americans.  Some were more pessimistic; some were more optimistic.  A range of emotional responses was conveyed through their writings: sadness, confidence, anger, resentment, defiance, apathy, tiredness, empathy, and religious faith, for example.  In this essay, you must compare and contrast the emotional responses/attitudes of three writers from the Harlem Renaissance.  Be sure to include at least four quotations as support for your ideas.  Be specific and concrete in your response.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Peer Editing--AP Essays

I use peer editing and the process of metacognition in my AP English Language and Composition class. First, I explain to students how AP Scorers (based on my experience) determine the score of 1-9 for each essay. I give the students a packet that contains a generic AP Essay Rubric, and other helpful pointers on how to write each essay. We read and discuss the information within. I tell students that if they can learn to have the mindset of an AP Scorer, their essays will improve.

Before I begin the peer-editing session, I read the prompt aloud, utilizing a teacher think-aloud technique. I pretend I am a student so that the class can hear my ideas for writing the essay. I tell the students to take good notes on the copy of the prompt that I gave them. 

Prior to my scoring the essays, I have the students score a peer's work, using the following guidelines.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How to Make Better Use of Multiple-Choice Assessments

Too often students answer questions on multiple-choice tests without "thinking through" their answers. As a way to ensure that students are reading closely and reflecting upon exactly why their chosen response is correct, I use the following techniques.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Link to Important Information About the New PSAT and SAT

Check out this link to learn about the new PSAT and SAT. At the end of the document are additional links that will help you prepare for these tests. (You may have to click on the link twice in order for it to work. Click once, then hit the browser back arrow, then click the link again.)

If the link does not work, google "college readiness pdf prepare new PSAT."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Handout--How to Take Notes While Reading

We often tell our students to take notes on texts that they are reading, assuming that they know how to take notes, when, in fact, they don't. I give the following handout to my students at the beginning of the year. Being explicit with our directions is an important teaching tool.

Scholars: Copy and paste this information into a Word document. Print it out.  Write your name, the date, and the period at the top. (You may also handwrite the suggestions below instead.) Then use a three-hole puncher so that you can keep the list of pointers for note taking in your three-ring binder.
  1. Summarize important chapters/scenes/sections of the text.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Obama's Speech on the Death of Bin Laden--Discussion Questions

A link to a Teacher Guide for this speech appears at the end.

Discussion Questions (Always cite words/language to prove your points.)

1.  What is President Obama’s primary purpose in this speech?
2.  Why does President Obama use the words, “killed,” “murder,” “thousands of innocent men, women, and children”? (Paragraph 1)
3.  How is the imagery in Paragraph 2 effective?  Cite specific words or phrases and explain the mood that is created by the language that you have cited. 
4.  In Paragraph 3, President Obama uses a different set of images. What is the difference in the types of images he presents in Paragraph 2 and Paragraph 3?  Why is this contrast in image type effective?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Teaching Methods Based on Learning Theory

Over the past year, I read a lot about learning theory and began experimenting with new teaching methods. I had already been using many of the techniques, but the compelling results of research studies convinced me to brainstorm novel ways to increase the use of such methods in varied ways. Below is a synthesis of the principles I try to utilize in my teaching methodology.

All students can definitely make real progress.
  • A  Authentic: Is this lesson truly useful and why? I ask myself exactly why I am facilitating this particular lesson. What skills will my students gain? How? In what ways does this lesson link to a larger unit plan? Is the lesson truly a worthwhile learning experience?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Proposal for Student Think Tanks

Student Links in Core Curriculum (SLICC):  A student "think tank" dedicated to creating links among core curriculum would be a great way to encourage buy-in and preparation for all standardized testing and improve critical thinking skills across disciplines. SLICC pages could be added to school websites.

Questions for our scholars: Are you slick? (SLICC)  Can you make it click? (Class Links In Core Curriculum)

I. Background:

One objective within common-core type tests such as the FSA ELA is a greater emphasis on informational or expository texts, in terms of both student reading and writing. By grade 12, 70% of the texts that students read should be informational, and 40% of what students write should be expository (informational). The Writing Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects include a focus on informative/explanatory texts. The English Language Arts Common Core Standards go even further, including a separate set of Reading Standards for Informational Text (in addition to the Reading Standards for Literature). Moreover, as students progress in grade levels, they should be reading texts with increased complexity. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Introducing Mythology to Students

I begin my American Literature courses with reading and discussing Native American myths, using the notes below as a way to introduce the subject. The information below is relevant to the discussion of any of the world mythologies.

A myth is a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature (

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Toulmin Method of Analyzing an Argument

The following links are excellent resources for teaching students how to analyze and write an argument (the first link is very accessible with student models):

Friday, July 31, 2015

How to Write an Analysis Essay (Handout)

See also the post on How to Analyze:

This post is geared to the general high school English class. There are other posts that are specific to the AP English Language and Composition course. Use the Search box. See the following link, for example, but there are many other posts for AP classes.

    How to Write an Analysis Essay
  • Analysis means explaining (with textual evidence, i.e., quotes) how an author effectively renders/shows/establishes a particular literary aspect.  For example, theme, mood, characterization, conflict.  Before you begin to write the essay, you have to figure out what larger aspect of the text you will be analyzing. (Sometimes your teacher will assign a specific literary aspect for you to analyze; other times, you will have to choose that literary aspect on your own.)  As you are reading the text, you need to find excellent examples (quotes) that will support that larger literary aspect.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Students Learn by Leading

I try to use scholar-led discussions as much as possible in my class. All the research demonstrates that students learn best when they are actively engaged.  It is very important, however, to establish decorum for student-facilitated discussions.  I spend a good deal of class time modeling and teaching appropriate speaking, listening, and discussion skills. Below is a handout that I distributed to my scholars prior to a class discussion of Thoreau's Walden.  Maybe you will find some of the ideas useful?
Scholars, I have chosen you to facilitate this lesson because of your brilliance, maturity, and leadership ability.  Thank you for all that you do to contribute to this class.  You are role models.

Today’s Lesson:  Close Reading and Analysis of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, a most influential work in American cultural and literary history.  Thoreau was influenced by Emerson, and other writers of the American Romantic Period (1800-1860), a time period when writers looked to 
Nature as an influence in their writing.  Thoreau is considered America’s first environmentalist.  The readings (Walden) in class today are excerpts from chapters in his larger work.  His purpose for writing this seminal U.S. text, among many, was to provide fellow citizens in Concord, Massachusetts, a response to their questions: What was he was doing out in the woods and why would he he choose to live there by himself?

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Of Plymouth Plantation" Discussion Questions

“Of Plymouth Plantation” Close Reading Questions (See page 82 in the yellow textbook—McDougal Little, The Language of Literature Series, American Literature, Grade 11)

1. Count the number of references to the Bible, scripture, religion, special providence, God, etc.  What types of allusions and references do Americans often make and hear in our own mediums of discourse--music, media, movies, and everyday life?  What do these references indicate about modern American ideals and values?  Do you like the particular references that are so prevalent in our society?  Why or why not?  Are there ways that we can be more reflective about the allusions/references we make?  How do allusions/references shape a people's culture and worldview?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Short Story Presentation Assignment

Below is an example of a short story presentation assignment that may provide ideas.

You will engage the class in a discussion/presentation of the short story assigned to you.  As you do the tasks below, also think of questions to ask your peers, including excerpts to read aloud.  Your peers should have a thorough understanding of the story by the time you complete your presentation.  Expect to answer questions.  You may also consider adding some creative activity (other than what is listed below) if you feel so inclined.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Essay Topics

Choose one of the prompts below to respond to with an essay of at least five paragraphs.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is about recalling information from memory. An active learning skill, it has been proven to increase long-term memory. Research also indicates that students who make a habit of retrieving information at spaced intervals perform better on high-stakes tests, but more importantly, learn and retain knowledge more efficiently than peers who do not use this technique. Click on the links below to learn more about retrieval practice:

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Media Literacy: Crucible Film Analysis

Have students focus on sound, music, lighting, camera angles, directorial choices, and setting.  

Ask students:
  • How do all these elements contribute to mood, excitement (drama and conflict), impact on viewers, and the overall quality of the movie? 
  • Which parts of the movie, in your opinion, were the best, most moving, or most suspenseful? Which scenes in the movie were less effective? Why?