Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Specificity is Key": How to Improve Writing Through Specificity and Elaboration

I use the exercise at the bottom of this post to help students improve their writing through specificity and elaboration. When I use this exercise, I sometimes pair students, group them, or have them work individually.  Often, I give them the choice to work with their peers or alone.  After the students complete the writing task (see below), we read the pieces aloud, and the class as a whole provides positive feedback.  I also guide students to suggest ways that the paragraphs that their peers have written could be even more specific, concrete, and elaborative.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) Informative/Explanatory Writing Rubric for Peer Editing Sessions

The Peer Editing Rubric below was adapted from the rubric on the Florida DOE website.


Florida Standards Assessment Informative/Explanatory Writing Rubric

For each of the following, answer yes or no. Also point out to your peer the sections of the essay that could be improved. Suggest ideas for improvement.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Walden" Lesson Plan--Link to HMH Collections Textbook, Grade 11, Collection 3 Resource

(Also Appropriate for Advanced Placement English Language and Composition)

Rationale for this Unit Plan

“The Literature Task plays an important role in honing students’ ability to read a complex text closely, a skill that research reveals as the most significant factor differentiating college-ready from non-college-ready readers. This task will ask students to carefully consider literature worthy of close study and compose an analytic essay” (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a developer of the Common Core assessment for thirteen states and the District of Columbia).

Standards Addressed: RI.11-12.1, RI.11-12.2, RI.11-12.3, RI.11-12.4, RI.11-12.5, RI.11-12.6, RI.11-12.7, RI.11-12.8, RI.11-12.9, RI.11-12.10, W.11-12.1, W.11-12.2, W.11-12.4, W.11-12.5, W.11-12.9, SL.11-12.4, SL.11-12.6.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Analysis of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"--Link to HMH Collections Textbook, Grade 11, Collection 6 Resource

See link at the end of this analysis for access to a pdf of this text.

Zora Neale Hurston, an important voice of the Harlem Renaissance, was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and novelist best known for her work, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Sadly, she died in 1960 after suffering financial and medical difficulties. In 1973, Alice Walker, another famous American writer, "rediscovered" Hurston and promoted her body of work. In the classic essay, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Hurston explores the idea that all of us have multiple selves, depending upon the context and environments in which we find ourselves.

Hurston's writing has an ebullience, self-assertiveness, and pride that is particularly evident in this text. She was a flamboyant and dramatic personality, at times clashing with fellow writers from the Harlem Renaissance, who believed that black Americans should use their art to speak out against racial oppression and the white majority.

Friday, October 17, 2014

"I Have a Dream" Speech by MLK--Text-Dependent Analytical Questions

Note to Teacher: The following questions are based on the paragraph sequence in the PDF link at the end of the question set below. If you are using the HMH Collections textbook (grade 9), consider the first two paragraphs of that textbook version to be paragraph one when using the questions below. I have provided questions for only the first half of King's speech so that students will have the opportunity to practice analyzing the latter half of the speech (without guiding questions) on their own.

A link to a teacher guide for this speech appears at the end of this post.


Sample Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) Informative/Explanatory Writing Prompt: The Black Death

Suggestions for Teacher:

Students should type their responses as practice for the exam. Although the directions from the sample test at http://www.fsassessments.org/
do not specify parenthetical citations, I would have students cite any information they use in their essays (both paraphrased text and text that students choose to quote). I would advise students to write the title or an abridged version of the title within parentheses. For example, the first text below would be cited as (“Black Death”), the next text could be abbreviated as (“Sin”) and the third text could be abbreviated as (“Depopulation”).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Text-Dependent Questions/Analysis, Webb's Depth of Knowledge, and Deeper Learning

Check out these links for guides to creating text-dependent questions, as well as explanations of Webb's Depth of Knowledge and the Deeper Learning Initiative. 

Compare/Contrast Essay Rubric

  1. Is the essay interesting?!  Does the writer seem interested in his/her subject?  Are you interested in the subject?  Is the essay fresh, new, and original?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gothic Writing Activity--Poe, Hawthorne, Faulkner

We have read "Masque of the Red Death" (454), "The Raven" (466), "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" (500), and "A Rose for Emily" (517).  All of these selections are considered gothic.

Gothic writing includes the following characteristics: 1) characters who are disturbed or unbalanced; 2) strange, terrifying, or supernatural events; 3) gloomy, dark, or rundown settings; 4) and vivid imagery or description.  Write an essay in which you compare and contrast how the selections we read are similar or different in these characteristics.  Which selection do you think is most effective as gothic literature and why?  Are there similar messages/themes in these selections?  What are those themes?  Consider also the points of view from which these pieces are narrated, as well as how these selections are structured/organized.  Reflect upon plot sequence, chronology (time element), and mood. Are there shifts in mood? How are those shifts in mood effective?  How is suspense created? Where is the climax of each piece?  What elements of mystery do the readings suggest? Which piece of literature, in your opinion, is the most entertaining and why?  You must provide specific commentary to support your response.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Transcendentalism Anticipation Guide and Post-Reading Activity

Before beginning the reading and discussion of Emerson and Thoreau, I have students respond in free-writing fashion to the quotations below.  Then I ask students to share what they have written with the class.


Key Transcendentalist Quotations

1. “Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string” (Emerson).
2. “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist” (Emerson).
3. “No law can be sacred to me but that of my own nature” (Emerson).
4. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind” (Emerson).
5. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” (Emerson).
6. “To be great is to be misunderstood” (Emerson).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Emerson Argumentative/Persuasive Writing Prompt

Do you think that the values of self-reliance and individualism are good for society as a whole?  Write an argumentative essay in which you defend, challenge, or qualify the statement that self-reliance and individualism are values that should be emphasized and reinforced in a society or culture.  Use evidence from your readings in this class, as well as evidence from any other discipline.  Consider the examples that you can reference in literature, the media (current events), world events, history, science, the arts, politics, psychology and personal experience.

Your essay should present examples to support your argument.  It is most important to elaborate on your examples and explain your reasoning.  You should be convincing!  Imagine you are a lawyer trying to convince a jury.  Include at least 5 examples (from any of the areas mentioned above) to support your argument.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Handout: Factors that Contribute to a Lower Grade on the AP English Language and Composition Argumentative/Persuasive Essay

These are musings/thoughts of mine, not those of The College Board.  I hope they are helpful.

1. There are too few examples (aim for at least 5 specific examples).
2. The example you provide for your argument is inappropriate, illogical, vague, weak, or "a stretch."
3. You do not sufficiently explain/elaborate on how your example relates to the thesis. You fail to make a good point or comment about the example you provide.
4. Your essay digresses (gets off track). You do not stick to the thesis. It is helpful to repeat key words from the prompt (or synonyms for words from the prompt) within the body of your essay to keep you focused. Do not lose sight of the prompt and the text before you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Crucible Essay Assignment

Ideas for The Crucible Film Analysis and Essay Assignment

Consider incorporating a discussion of film analysis into the lesson below.  See link to other post on this website:


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

For Twain's novel, I discuss the following themes prior to student reading of the novel. Then I tell students that they must find two sections of the text to quote for each of the themes listed below. After each quote they must include an explanation of how the text/section that they are referring to exemplifies the particular theme. Once students have finished reading the novel, we have a scholar-led discussion on the book. (See "Students Learn by Leading" post on this website for ideas about how to facilitate a scholar-led discussion.)

The Crucible Research Paper Assignment

Short Research Paper – The Crucible

  • On topic of how the play The Crucible is relevant to the world today.
  • Four pages, typed, double-spaced, using Times New Roman 12-point font.
  • Follows MLA style – maintains third person, cites sources correctly.  A great online reference for using MLA style can be found at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/
  • Uses at least two sources, cited correctly.
  • Due by _________.  No late papers will be accepted.  No excuses.  If you doubt that you will have it on time, do it early.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Vocabulary Development Activity--Synthesis, Creative Writing, Collaboration, Current Events

As a way to develop vocabulary skills, knowledge of current events, synthesis, and creative writing all at the same time, I use the following activity/handout. Prior to this activity, I provide students with a list of common SAT words. For homework I tell them to find a news article (by googling) that uses one of the SAT words. They should highlight the word in the article, as well as write a definition of the word at the top of the article. (The list of SAT words should be long enough so that you can assign one word for each student.) Students are told to print out their articles and bring them to class. Then I divide the students into groups, and give them the following directives.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Handout on How to Take Notes on Fiction

  1. Summarize important chapters/scenes/sections of the text.
  2. Write down all vocabulary words that you do not know.  Look up the definitions and write them down.
  3. Write down any questions you have about what you are reading, i.e., things that you don’t understand. Ask your teacher in class about confusing sections.  Be sure you have written down the page numbers for confusing sections in the text.
  4. Write down good examples of figurative language—similes, metaphors, personification.  Quote; provide the page number.  Elaborate on the effectiveness of the figurative language.
  5. Write down which sections/aspects of the text you liked best.  Provide page numbers. Explain why you liked those sections.
  6. Write down which sections/aspects of the text you liked least.  Provide page numbers. Explain why you did not prefer those sections.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sample Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) Argumentative Prompt: Vaccines for Children

Some have claimed that vaccinations for children are not necessary or even harmful. Other individuals see government vaccinations as an invasion of a parent's right to make choices for his/her own children.  And still others feel that vaccinations are necessary and good for public health reasons. Read the accompanying texts and decide for yourself whether you think that vaccinations for children are necessary and should be required.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What Is Deliberative Practice?

"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow" (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

In the past, neurobiologists believed that the neurons (brain cells) and synapses (spaces between neurons), where electrical firings took place, were the keys to learning.  But now brain researchers have discovered that myelin, the white matter that insulates the nerve fibers, plays a crucial role in learning. "Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons. . . . The more we fire a particular circuit [chain of neurons], the more myelin optimizes [grows around] that circuit" (Coyle, The Talent Code, 32).  And the more myelin (insulation) for the chain of neurons, the faster and more easily information "glides" throughout the brain.  (Think of myelin as the casing around electrical cords.)   Repeated firing of neuronal circuits develops and improves a skill.  From a neurobiological point of view, a skill is a neuronal circuit that has become faster and more fluent (increased myelination) through deliberative, also called "deep," practice.