This is a repeat post. It was the first post I wrote when I started this blog. I am re-sharing it because it was such a fun exploration into challenging text. I would use it early, early in my year to ensnare my students. It will make them think. They will be engaged. That’s the buzz word these days. And they will love your class from the very beginning.
Last summer my PD was the Advanced Placement Summer Institute at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. The presenter shared some amazing resources and fired my Beginning of the Year. I want to give her credit here. Jan Harris of Crosby, Texas. I can’t find her on Twitter or on Facebook – is that possible? – but she inspires good teaching. One book that I immediately needed was filled with short texts gathered by Harvey Smokey Daniels and Nancy Steineke, Texts and Lessons for Teaching Literature. You need to just go ahead and order it now. Heinemann publishes it and order it straight from them. They give teacher discounts and it comes out just as cheap as it does anywhere else. And you have to love companies who publish just for teachers. Most of what is in here also has copyright permission for use your students. 31 of the best $$ I have spent on educational materials.
We started with “The Wallet” by Andrew McCuaig. My students Ate. This. Up. The class discussion was so much fun to listen to. I didn’t even need to be there! They argued over who this woman was – an abused mother of two young children or a kidnapper. At the end of class, one student asked, “Did you just make us read this so we would think?” Yes, my teacher heart did a somersault. And he got to leave first. They kept wanting to know the end of the story. That’s what’s so great about this book. The stories leave the students wanting to know more AND these are stories they haven’t read in every other literacy class they have had.
Story #2 was even better. OMGoodness. They devoured “Rose” by John Biguenet. So did I. Wait, what happened here? He was kidnapped? He is dead? The husband killed the wife? The wife kidnapped the child? WHAT? And we had some extra fun with this one. One of the great things about the book by Daniels and Steineke is that they provide plans for Common Core (if you do or if you don’t) lesson plan ideas. So I took one of those and added a twist. We do annotations. I mean, I actually teach annotating text. Eighth graders are clueless about note-taking. They write everything. They cover the page in ink. You can’t read it. They can’t read it. Just a royal mess.
This is what we look for.
What did you notice? What do you think is important for us to discuss? We look for new or unusual vocabulary. We look for style and the words and phrases that create style because we are always reading as writers. We mark emotions and favorites and literary elements about which we have been learning. We mark confusing parts that we want to discuss and debate for clarification. And we mark keys to comprehension – what did we think was vital to unlock the meaning we are attempting to develop? We mark clues to understanding the characters – their development by the author and their metamorphosis in the text. What do they say and what are they thinking? And we learn to do it neatly so we are able to read it later when we join the discussion as a whole group or in small groups.
So thanks to my PLN on Twitter, I bought the best gel pens in the world and shared them with my students as if they were pure gold. Everything is more fun in fuchsia, turquoise, or orange gel ink. These are Paper-Mate InkJoy Gel Pens. Spend the money. They are worth it. And we wrote on the text. Ran copies. Used paper. I know.
What do you wonder?
Then, so they could wonder about this without any noise – well kind of – we passed notes. Silently. And to make it more fun, I Googled how to fold notes the way my daughter did in high school. Did you know there is a You-Tube video for everything? So I taught my kids how to fold notes, thinking they would think I was old and dumb and they already knew how to do this. Really, Mrs. Hamilton? But no! They had never done this! Just blew me away. I put the video on the Promethean board and they learned how to fold notes. On the note in their colored ink, they wrote one question about the story because that is my go-to question. What do you wonder? And then they folded the note back up, put their own name on the outside in their colored gel pen ink.
I turned on the music – “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” – of course. I used the You’ve Got Mail version ($1.29 on iTunes) just because it’s so cheerful. It’s on my iPad and I Bluetoothed it to a speaker. And they got up – yes! out of their seats! – and exchanged notes with other students. They kept going until the music stopped and sat down to write their answers to the question and add their own “wonder”. They also added their names to the outside of the note after folding it back up, and we did it again. About three times was all I could stand, but they were having such f-u-n.
After class I sat down and read their notes, and at the beginning of the next class they were greeted with a list of their I wonder questions on the Promethean board. In small groups they discussed the list, trying to sort out possible explanations to what really happened in this story. By the way, the key to the entire story is one little question mark. Yet no one caught it. The power of punctuation.
Mrs. Hamilton, please!
This story drove the students nuts. They kept waiting for me to give them the end of the story. They already had it. They begged me to tell them how it ended. The story told them what happened. In the midst of all this, one of my girls came to parent conferences with her dad and pleaded with me to just tell her what happened because she just could not wait another day to know.
Total engagement. No discipline problems. Fun teaching. Yes.