Category Archives: Recommended Resources

Alternative Assessments

If you’re reading this post, please know that I’ve moved the How to Teach a Novel blog to a new site. There you’ll find even more recent posts! Please change your bookmarks.

This is one of those posts where I simply point and say, “I saw something cool! Let’s go get it.”

A friend at Twitter (PageTurnersBlog, well worth following) retweeted that a post at Novel Novice features one YA Lit teacher’s alternative assessments as a download. A couple cool ideas I hadn’t thought of!

It’s nice to share good stuff!

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Grammar Book Give-Away

I saw some interest in my post a week ago on Maupin House’s Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School. Seems a lot of teachers have been struggling with the “how to teach grammar” and even the “should I teach grammar?” issues.

Maupin House just announced that they’ll give a copy of Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School to one lucky winner. Just visit their site to see how to enter (so many ways to win!).

But Keith, I already bought the book! You said to! Well, in that case, Maupin House has generously agreed to let the winner choose any other book from their wide array of original titles for teachers. I’m thinking of grabbing a copy of Amazing Hands-on Literature Projects for Secondary Students and Razzle Dazzle Writing for myself .

All entries must be entered by Thursday, February 25th at 11:59 pm EST.

Good luck, folks!

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YA Book Trailers

If you’re reading this post, please know that I’ve moved the How to Teach a Novel blog to a new site. There you’ll find even more recent posts! Please change your bookmarks.

Teens@Arapahoe Libraries District has posted a nice collection of YA (young adult) book trailers. I’ve posted on trailers before, describing how they can get students excited about new book titles in the same way that movie trailers get us psyched about new films.

Some of my faves featured there? The Book Thief by by Markus Zusak, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy by Barry Lyga, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, and The Batboy by Mike Lupica.

Check out the trailers, read the books, bring them into the classroom!

If you need some additional ideas for how to use book trailers, check out my suggestions in the latter half of this post from my Teach with Picture Books blog.

If you’re seeking a terrific book extension project for students, have them create their own trailers. Whether live action or still image, putting pictures to words requires a number of critical thinking skills. Need a platform for that? Check out the Fifty Digital Storytelling Tools listed at CogDogRoo.

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Grammar Instruction Made Easier

Want to start a fist fight among middle and high school teachers? Ask them how you should teach grammar. Don’t believe me? That was the topic of a recent conversation at the English Companion Ning. It runs for over five pages! Even after reading what so many experienced and intelligent educators had to say, I have to admit, I’m still confused.

But I did chime in. The first paragraph of my response read as follows:

Most recently I’ve taught grammar in context of real literature, but then I began to realize that not only was I missing some key concepts, but some students by their learning natures were not seeing connections. I really needed a program that was more systematic, recursive, and explicit. Wow. I didn’t realize that was what I needed until I just typed it. (Lesson to be learned: writing can create thinking, as well as vice versa).

A colleague warned me that I should be careful what I wished for, since I probably didn’t want a program that was systematic, recursive, and explicit. But, oddly enough, that’s what I do want, and that’s what I feel is needed.

Unlike reading, which is open to many interpretations, grammar actually functions by certain rules. Some of those rules must be understood before others (hence my emphasis upon systematic). I also know from years when I looped (from third to fourth), and more recently when I taught my former fourth graders as sixth graders, grammar rules are often forgotten, or need to be retaught in context of more difficult literary contexts (hence the recursiveness). And yes, I feel that grammar needs to be explicit. In the same way that mathematicians share a universally understood vocabulary, so should readers and writers. When discussing a piece of writing, for example, even a third grader should know what is meant by “the writer’s use of specific adverbs.”

So how can we teach grammar in a way that is not only systematic, recursive, and explicit, but also creative and engaging? Jane Bell Kiester seems to offer one solution in her Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School. Using daily correction exercises, middle school students can dramatically improve their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and writing structure.

But how are these daily exercises different from other types of daily corrections? First of all, Giggles in the Middle is one continuous story, which helps to increase student engagement while providing meaningful context. Secondly, the exercises focus not only on grammar but also vocabulary development. A third difference is that this program integrates creative, original writing, with a new Writing Idea offered every three to four days.

In the Caught Ya approach Kiester offers a lot of teaching tips, having used and tweaked this program in her own class for many years. She also discusses a number of variations to the approach which teachers might want to adopt, depending upon their individual preferences and student populations. In all cases, however, emphasis is upon students understanding not only what is wrong, but why (see this sample student Caught Ya).

The book includes enough Caught Yas for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. Each day’s passage is presented with errors, corrections, and explanations of those corrections. Teachers with limited knowledge of grammar will find all the information they need to teach the lesson with confidence. The books also includes “almost midterm” and final exam tests, should a teacher choose to conduct summative assessments.

What I like best of all is that all exercises are included on an enclosed CD. For teachers who routinely use interactive whiteboards, or for those who need to print out exercises for absent or special needs students, the CD is a real timesaver.

If you’re looking for a grammar solution that delivers results, I suggest you check out Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School or, for the high school crowd, Chortling Bard: Caught’ya! Grammar with a Giggle for High School. Need more convincing? Read more about the Caught Yas and also see what students and teachers have to say over at Maupin House.

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Web 2.0 Classroom Conversations

If your students are anything like mine, they love getting into heated conversations over ideas from their novels and related readings. Being typical sixth graders, all students have an opinion to express and a story to share. What I wanted to find was a way for that conversation to continue beyond the classroom; many times I needed to cut it short when students were just getting started!

Having had a lot of experience with Ning, I thought that would be the perfect vehicle. The problem is, Ning, like Facebook, requires that users be 13 years old. I couldn’t knowingly ignore this. So after searching around for a similar online experience, I finally chose Edmodo.

Edmodo is a closed, private community which looks and acts like a Facebook/Twitter hybrid. It allows for threaded discussions, polls, video uploading, and discussion groups. It totally fit the bill. Read more about why I chose Edmodo (over at my Teaching that Sticks blog) and find out how I felt about the choice after five days. Then decide for yourself is this tool is right for your class.

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How to Teach a Novel: The Workshop

If you’re in Central New Jersey in late February with absolutely nothing to do, you might consider joining me for my How to Teach a Novel Workshop.

This free workshop, sponsored by New Jersey ASCD, will be held from 4:00 to 5:30 at Bedminster School in Bedminster, NJ. More details are available via this brochure.

In addition to being free, the event will include refreshments and door prizes, plus credit hours to those who need them. Come join us for a great time!

See a list of my other public events for the remainder of this school year.

Note: Donut pictured here is for illustrative purposes only. Your refreshment experience may vary.

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The Wind Beneath Their Wings

My corny and equally enigmatic title is meant to point out that even our most creative and original thinkers were in some way influenced by the work of others. How was Columbus influenced by the Bible? Who were Stephen King’s muses? In what way are Britney Spears and Alfred Hitchcock artistically connected?

Infloox is a website which attempts to show how influential people were influenced. While it’s still very much in its beta stage, you can see from its How It All Works page that the site relies upon reader contributions to connect influential people and works to the not only their influences, but to whom or what they’ve influenced.

So we learn that John F. Kennedy was influenced by Winston Churchill, alledgedly reading every word that the British Prime Minister had ever written (click on the detail link beside a person’s name to see the connection, versus a a new topic window for that person). Okay, that one’s not shocking.

But in another example, we learn that Beowulf was read by Tolkien, who was a close friend and University of Oxford colleague of C.S. Lewis, who in turn was an influence upon Sarah Palin. So ultimately Sarah Palin’s thinking is descended from an ill-smelling, obnoxious monster of the cold North whose fame came from eating men alive. Insert your own joke here.

Most influences are credited to their sources, and some are additionally linked to forums. The sources aren’t always easily checked, however, so I wouldn’t hang the hat of your dissertation on this site alone. When I tried to investigate both references to Treasure Island’s influence upon Steven Spielberg, for example, neither would yield a result. Others did, however, pan out.

So how to use this site?

  • First of all, it’s amusing to browse. Each page offers some browsing suggestions in a side bar to the right, and I found myself frittering away a surprising amount of time linking from one person and idea to the next.
  • Secondly, if you’re teaching any of these same famous persons, you might find a kernel of insight here to be explored in more depth. I taught The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for many years, so I knew of the Tolkien/Lewis connection, and I’d read quite a bit about their dialogues concerning their respective series (Lord of the Rings and Narnia). But this may be news to another teacher. C.S. Lewis was additionally influential to J.K.Rowling, and careful readers can pick up on specifics. The four Pevensie children, for example, are poster children for the four houses of Hogwarts; in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe they not only take on the charcteristics of the houses’ symbolic animals, but at some point in the novel they are each overtly linked to those animals. For those who teach this novel, check out the related note-taking chart.
  • Third, you might like your students to discuss why certain people in history may have been so influenced by one of their predecessors. For example, which single famous person influenced Cervantes, Einstein, Columbus, Napoleon, and Kissinger?

So check out Infloox and also take a gander at their blog. I’d love to hear your own thoughts for ways to use this site!

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