Category Archives: Recommended Sites

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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Banned Books Beg to be Read!

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.

September 25−October 2, 2010 is Banned Books Week. No, my calendar isn’t broken, but I figure, what wait?

In my opinion, there’s no time like the present to thumb your nose at someone else’s supposed authority over your intellectual freedoms. Check out Amazon’s helpful compilation of banned books. You’ll be surprised what’s there! It’s actually a pretty decent list of must-reads.

Pretty amazing how easily some people can be led to self-righteous, passionate outrage over literary expression. I guess they don’t get out much.

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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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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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There’s a Word for That

One thing students don’t realize (until you point it out to them) is that language isn’t static. Like any other discipline, it continues to evolve. One case in point is the July 2009 announcement from Merriam-Webster regarding the addition of new words to its dictionary:

Hardworking word-lovers everywhere can now learn the meaning of the word staycation (“a vacation spent at home or nearby”) along with nearly 100 other new words and senses added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. America’s best-selling dictionary offers its new 2009 entries in its updated print edition and online at Merriam-Webster.com.”Our language evolves in many ways,” said John Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster Inc. “As we’ve seen from our Open Dictionary feature on Merriam-Webster.com, people enjoy blending existing words, like combining ‘stay’ and ‘vacation’ to make staycation. Staycation is a good example of a word meeting a need and establishing itself in the language very quickly. Our earliest record of use is from 2005, but it seems to have exploded into popular use in 2007.”

“Another example of this kind of creative wordplay from this year’s list,” said Morse, “is frenemy: one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy. But, in addition to these ‘portmanteau words,’ we have added new words from more predictable categories, like science, health, technology, and popular culture, which have also seen widespread use across a variety of publications.”

Many of the new words reflect the importance of the environment (carbon footprint, green-collar), government activities (earmark, waterboarding), health and medicine (cardioprotective, locavore, naproxen, neuroprotective), pop culture (docusoap, fan fiction, flash mob, reggaeton), and online activities (sock puppet, vlog, webisode). Other words added include haram, memory foam, missalette, and zip line.

What Merriam-Webster fails to admit is that our language changes daily, and new words don’t wait to be officially recognized. So rather than accessing the Merriam-Webster online dictionary for new terms, word-lovers are better served by sites such as Wordspy and Urban Dictionary.

Wordspy takes on a recent word such as vegangelical and not only defines and parses it (n. An extremely zealous vegan who is eager to make other people believe in and convert to veganism; blend of vegan and evangelical) but also traces it to its earliest citation (in this case, to the blog The Smoking Vegans in 2005).

Wordspy is a fun site to browse, and readers are welcome to comment on entries and suggest new words as well. Its biggest strength is that it offers citations for all the words it lists. But the question must be asked, “Just because someone uses a word, does it become a word?” To put it another way, “Are all neologisms created equal?” Sure, Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, and Lewis Carroll coined words all the time, but do the rest of us carry enough clout to do the same?

Enter Urban Dictionary. Users enter words they’ve created or recently heard, and readers vote the words up or down. Rather than attempting to ajudicate, Urban Dictionary simply allows other users to enter their competing definitions for those same terms or phrases. Often you’ll find that multiple readers submit similar definitions, and even provide the sources for you to confirm the facts. “The time,” for example, is submitted by two readers who cite its origin in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Both agree that “the time” is a euphemism for intercourse.

Urban Dictionary is fun to read for its spirited arguments. I also discovered that the tags attached to each word keep me reading from one word to another. While teachers will appreciate that some readers actually try to spread knowledge about our language (see the posts about Catch-22), you should be warned that some submitters use language that is inappropriate for children, and for this reason Urban Dictionary is likely blocked in your school.

A third site for neologisms is Buzz Whack. While the words listed here are clever and even familiar, this site lacks the interaction and attempt at scholarship found in the previous two. But it’s worth a look, and you might even find a resaon to like it.

How can teachers make use of these sites? Certainly as add-on dictionaries. But I’d say just alerting students to neologisms will make them more aware of the fact that these words are springing up all around them in an attempt to name new phenomena (sexting is one such unfortunate term which needed to be coined). Students can collect and share these, and even be challenged to create their own (an easy task if they choose to create portmanteaus, ala Lewis Carroll).

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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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