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?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Likeable Links

Check out this interesting article on how the globalized, Internet world may be contributing to some strange behaviors in cognitive neuropsychiatry:

And here's a link to refresh our thoughts about the 6 types of questions students need to know about:

Thoughts from our Education Secretary about how technology will never replace great teachers, as well as an embedded links with information about OpenCourseWare Sites and several other great stories:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Vocabulary Development--Five Principles for Learning New Words

The following information was excerpted and adapted from a lecture, "Five Principles for Learning Vocabulary," by Professor Kevin Flanigan who teaches at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. 

    • For the target word, learn a clear definition that distills the critical aspects of what the word means--and what it doesn't.
    • Place the word in the context of a sentence to get a feel for how it's actually used. Remember if you want to really know a shark, you study it in the ocean--its natural habitat. if you want to really know a word, you study how it behaves in its natural habitat--sentences, paragraphs, and books.
    • Make connections to the word. Think of a vocabulary word as a label for an underlying concept.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2015

    Family Income Significantly Affects Student Achievement

    I have witnessed firsthand the effects of poverty on student performance. In recent history, the disparity among family incomes in our nation has never been more wide. According to a 

    Sunday, May 17, 2015

    Wednesday, May 13, 2015

    Learning Theory--Excerpts from an Excellent Book

    Excerpts from Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown
    The book in its entirety is available through

    Learning is an acquired skill, and the most effective strategies are often counterintuitive. Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow. We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not. When the going is harder and slower and it doesn’t feel productive, we are drawn to strategies that feel more fruitful, unaware that the gains from these strategies are often temporary.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    AP English Language and Composition: How to Write a Synthesis Essay


    The Synthesis Prompt appears first in the Free-Response Section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam. Synthesis is a blending of ideas from other sources to create a new whole (your essay). In this exam, there will be either 6 or 7 Sources (A through G) that you will need to read and gather ideas to support your argument--your response to the prompt. At least one of the Sources will be visual (a chart, a graph, a picture, a cartoon). The directions on the exam tell you that you must incorporate at least 3 different Sources into your discussion (essay). You may think of the Synthesis Essay as a mini Research Paper. You are being tested on your ability to read, evaluate, and utilize the Sources in a coherent written argument. Below are some pointers that I have come up with after teaching AP English for many years, as well as from my experience as an AP Reader. The suggestions below are not necessarily part of the rubric from The College Board. They are based on the conclusions that I have drawn after reading and evaluating thousands of Synthesis Essays over the years.

    Saturday, May 9, 2015

    Learning Theory--The Benefits of Interleaving Practice

    Check out these links to evolving research in learning theory. I have applied the techniques of interleaving practice and spacing in my own teaching; the innovative approaches work. Read about the latest learning techniques and try incorporating the methods in your own classes.

    You might want to read the Wikipedia article (first link) for a quick overview, then click on the other links.