Monday, November 9, 2015

Writer's Circle: Argument Peer Response

Understanding that other perspectives exist besides their own, can be tough for students to grasp. When writing argument on a topic they are passionate about, students often fail to see that other viewpoints exist. Writer's circle provides the opportunity to see beyond their own point of view. 

When my students wrote argument pieces, I not only wanted them to give feedback  but to be exposed to as many topics as possible. I wanted students to see what others thought and to share their own thoughts on the topic. I  wanted my writers to see that they might not be on target with their argument- there are other perspectives they haven't thought about or additional ideas supporting their argument that hadn't crossed their minds.  Writer's Circle is powerful and allows for all of the above.

How it Works: 
Students take their argument piece and a sheet of paper with their name on it to the circle.
 I group desks in one large circle and everyone sits with their paperwork.
I tell students they will pass their piece of paper with their argument piece to the left until I tell them to stop.
I do several "pass" commands to get their piece away from the besties they are likely sitting by.
When I tell students to stop, they have about 10 minutes to read and respond to the writing.
They are not permitted to comment on grammar, spelling, citations, etc. They are only allowed to agree or disagree and share why. They can choose the entire argument or one point of the argument to discuss.
We do several rounds- as many as time permits- and usually students get their paperwork back with about 3-4 student comments.

What happens next: 
Students take the comments to their own desk the next day and re-read them. Their goal is to analyze whether there is some perspective they haven't thought about. Some angle that they need to further investigate. This might be a pro or a con- it might agree with their stance or not- but having feedback like this helps students to really experience others viewpoints outside their own.

- Students get various viewpoints outside of their own.
- You can hear a pin drop! Students LIKE to read others work and they enjoy responding with their own viewpoint.
- Writers can revise their work, do further research and are often heard commenting, "I didn't think of it that way!"
And that's the point!

Writer's Circle is perfect for argument writing! There is no way students can be fully prepared for the argument topics they might be faced with on the state test,  so exposing them to various researched argument ideas provides some background for them. Beyond that- FAR beyond the test- is that students need to understand that their viewpoint is not the only one and that argument is powerful to get our messages out there- that maybe we might change something as a result.

Below are various snapshots of student comments to Argument papers done in a Writer's Circle:

Top Photo Attribution: photo credit: <a href="">Idea selection</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a> 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Formative Assessment- Tech Tools to Formatively Assess (Working Smarter not Harder)

Formative Assessment. The idea is not new to teachers. With the KY Professional Growth System, teachers must select a student growth goal and that leads to many formative assessments to find out what students do not know, in order to create that growth goal. 
 According to Formative Assessment (FA) is the “Where am I going? Where am I now? And How can I close the gap between the two?”  While there are many traditional FA routes, thanks to technology,  there are many tools available to formatively assess our students with instant feedback available. We have to learn to work smarter rather than harder. 

What’s the purpose of formative assessment? First and foremost, FA is meant to measure student ability in order to inform our instruction. Formative Assessment also informs students of what they know and don't know in order to create personalized  learning goals for the classroom.  When I begin a grammar unit, I assess my students to see what they know and need to know.  The tricky part is what to do next.  For me, grammar is very easy to work with when it comes to FA. I pre-test students and those who know it can either practice using the concept in a more challenging way or they can move on to a different concept altogether. Those who do not know it or show weaknesses, will practice that concept until I hope they reach mastery.

One technique that a fellow- teacher uses is “Just for me Mondays”. Students work on skills and concepts that they showed they did not know through pre-tests,  while other students move on to other skills. It takes a lot of work; I won’t lie about that! Creating various activities and providing the practice for each student is time-consuming and challenging, but students are getting the materials they need in order to grow.

There is nothing worse than sitting through lessons/lecture/activities that you have done and have already mastered (think about those PD’s you sit through every year…). Formative Assessment keeps kids moving forward because you know what they know and can do,  as well as what they need to improve upon.

There are many tools available to formatively assess students and the traditional paper/pencil assessment is not out of the question. Certainly there are times when the traditional route makes sense, but gathering the data and recording it can be really challenging and frustrating.  In our present age, we are lucky to have many tools available that can assist us in formatively assessing our students, and while I will highlight a few, there are many, many others available.

What the heck are Plickers, you ask? The great thing about Plickers is that you and only you need a smart phone to use them.  Plickers is a card system that allows students to do a quick multiple choice assessment. You display or ask the question, students hold up the card so the letter answer is at the top of the card, and you scan the room with your cell phone using the free Plickers APP. Each card number is assigned to a student and you get a cumulative report of student answers. The app is free and the cards are free and available HERE.   And you can get the free App for your Smart Phone HERE
Much like the student hand-held response systems that many schools have for their active boards, Plickers simply require one piece of equipment to run (your smart phone) and a set of laminated cards.  You can log into the site or see on the APP  an entire class’ results quickly and easily. 

Why use it? Variety. Brain research shows that a variety in instruction and assessment practices keeps kids interested. So while you can keep using that hand-held response system that goes with your active board, breaking it up once in a while with something different just changes things up and makes learning more interesting for students. Student Results 

Edmodo- Quiz/Grammar apps
Edmodo is approved by most schools for student use; it is also safe and easy for teachers and students to navigate. Edmodo has several options for gathering student results- there is a Quiz feature where you can create various types of quizzes. Students take the quiz, which shows up as a post on their “wall” and the results immediately transfer into your Edmodo gradebook where you can view student performance.  What I really like about the Edmodo quizzes is that you can see each student’s individual results, but you can also see results based on a breakdown of the questions. If the majority of the class missed question 2, I can do a quick mini-lesson in class the next day to target that question’s concept or skill. Now THAT is using assessment for instruction!

Individual Student Results on Edmodo Quiz

Question Breakdown- Information for Quick Mini-lessons! 

Edmodo also offers many free or partially free apps and for the ELA teacher there are two grammar apps- NoRedInk and Snapshot that assesses students and provides quick results in various forms. These grammar apps are connected to the Common Core Standards and are easy to assign and for students to take.  Snapshot , while the content is limited for the free version of the app, provides a much more detailed breakdown of student understanding than NoRedInk does. Snapshot also assesses in Reading CCS. 

NoRedInk Student Results

Snapshot Individual Student Results

Snapshot Results by Standard 

Using the Result by Standard in Snapshot, a teacher can quickly adjust instruction in order to target a concept the whole class is struggling with or create small group/personalized instruction for those few students who are not understanding the concept or skill. 

Sample Narrative BlendSpace Module I created 

BlendSpace provides you the opportunity to create multi-modal modules for students to progress through at their own pace. You can insert documents, PowerPoints, YouTube or other video resources, and more! The site is free and is available as an app on Edmodo for free! (Be advised that if used on Edmodo, students have to log-in to BlendSpace in order to take the quiz- which could pose as a potential problem).

BlendSpace  provides a quiz feature at the end of the module and student results are displayed in your “gradebook”.  This site is a great way to flip instruction. I use BlendSpace to give students basic notes on Narrative Writing, for example, something they have been exposed to for at least 3 or 4 years. Rather than take up class time to “do notes”, I have students do the work at home so we can jump into the meat of writing in class. I can also quickly see what aspect of narrative writing the majority of my students don't "get" for added mini-lessons or individualized instruction in small groups for those concepts that only a few don't understand. 

BlendSpace Student Results by Question 

Here's the thing- there are so many tech tools out there that gather and sort the results for you! Formative assessment is not always easy, but for those who truly want to reach each child in instruction, it is necessary. After you formatively assess, the biggest obstacle can be aggregating that data. Thankfully, there are now many tech tools  that can assist us in this monumental task. 

How Do you both Formatively Assess AND Gather/Sort the data? What strategies in ELA do you use to take that data and DO something with it? Please Share!! 

Further Resources on Formative Assessment: 
What is the Difference between Formative and Summative Assessment?  LINK 
Traditional Strategies to Formatively Assess-  LINK
Teachers Share Formative Assessment Strategies on Edutopia 

Photo at top of blog: photo credit: <a href="">Educational Postcard about teachers working smarter using formative assessment</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a> 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Gaming" Using PowerPoint


As I work, think, create and collaborate through the 2015 #CLMOOC,  I was reminded of the Interactive Mystery PowerPoint ‘games’ that my students created many years ago (See below). You have probably downloaded a popular game using Action Buttons in PPT and may not have even known it- Jeopardy! 
Since this week was about gaming, I wondered how PowerPoint might be used as a game and hopefully, a game for learning. I have included in this post links to a Google Folder with a couple examples of how an Interactive PPT might be used in the classroom. 

First, simply learning how to set up a PowerPoint (PPT)  game using Hot buttons is a valuable tool/skill for many purposes.  Everything from stories to learning centers can be created using the Hot Buttons on PPT.  With all the new-fangled tech tools out there- PowerPoint is often forgotten or disregarded, yet many teachers do not have Internet connection or they have limited access to computers- so PPT is a viable alternative for tech projects and learning centers that do not require the Internet and depending on use, may only require a limited number of computers to implement.

So what is a hot button? It is a clickable picture or icon that can lead you to any slide you want students to go to.  To find the hot buttons- open a PPT- click on the Insert tab- then click on shapes and scroll all the way down to the bottom- you will see “Action Buttons” .


The Action buttons include going forward or backward to any slide, a blank button where you can insert your own text or image/icon, an action button that allows for a link to a movie, a document; an “I” button for information you want to provide and so on.  To change the color of the Action Button, right click and go to format shape.  Cited:

 Click on the button you want, you can size it and then choose what slide you want it to link to- the best way to do this in my opinion is to create all your slides FIRST- then when it’s time to link the Action or Hot button- right click on the button and click on “Edit Hyperlink”.  At “Hyperlink to” change the drop-down menu item to “slide” and you can actually SEE the slide you want to connect to.  Much easier!  (You might only see “hyperlink” when you right click. If so, click on it- make sure it indicates “Place in this Document” on the left side of the window that opens- then under “Slide titles”  you can click on each one to see it- selecting the one you want to link to.)


Another tip is to go to Transitions tab- and over on the far right- be sure you remove the check mark from “Advance Slide- On Mouse Click”. You want ONLY the buttons to move the slides. If you fail to remove the check mark you can click anywhere and the slides will advance; the buttons become useless. 

So how can PPT be used to set up a gaming type learning experience?

Centers: You can create a center for learning that allows students to click on a particular number that you assign (differentiating) or have students work through sequentially. The PPT center is a great tool for those early finishers in class. Math practice, creative writing prompts, the sky’s the limit as to what you direct students to do using this tool as a learning center-  Best of all, you only need one or two computers to offer this opportunity to students. 

Click Here for a link to my TPT store where I offer two centers- one on informational reading and the other for Literary reading. There are up to 24 activities offered for those early finishers, differentiation, etc.

Creative Writing: Students can create choose your own adventures or any type of story that is more interactive in nature. Included in the Google Folder is a Choose Your Own Adventure Story that I began to give you an idea for how one might be set-up. Here is a link to my TPT store where I have a Mystery E-book PowerPoint student sample, directions for how to create the E-books (although you really don’t need that once you’ve read this!) and a class vote sheet for the E-books so everyone gets to view their peers’ creations.

Interactive Learning:  Get them out of their seats! If you have a SMART or Promethean Active board you can create modules that allow students to come to the board and make their choices.  You can also save the module to your website for student access individually or in small groups/partners.  Included in the Google Folder is the beginning of an Active/Passive Game for students to put their knowledge to the test.

You know your content and what you want students to learn! Using PPT and the Action buttons is a great way to give students variety in their learning experiences.  But don’t stop at creating them yourself, allow students to learn about PPT – a great way for them to demonstrate their learning by creating a game or activity that showcases what they know or they can create a fun interactive story which takes quite a bit of critical thinking to produce.  Whatever the idea, PPT and the Action Buttons are versatile and provide an accessible option for learning in the classroom. 

Here’s a fun PPT Game created by Susan Watson where participants created their own vocabulary words to describe an emotion. 

Do you use PPT Action Buttons? How? Share ways you've set up PPT for gaming or interactive learning experiences for your students or how your students have used this versatile tool! 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Genius Hour- Where Passion and Standards Meet

This work incorporated the following Common Core Standards: 
RI 8.4, RI 8.7, RI 8.10, W8.2, W8.4, W8.6, W8.7, W8.9, SL8.4, SL8.5

Like everything I try in my classroom- I usually try it small-scale to see how it goes and build from there. The goals I had for trying out Genius Hour included a desire for student-led learning, making sure the CCS (Common Core Standards) were being addressed, and doing something for our community- thus the passion project was born.
Student goals included the following:
·         Select and research a local non-profit/charity- they had to find out about the charity and the issue with which the charity is involved. For example- Northern KY Hates Heroin- the non-profit and the issue of Heroin abuse in Kentucky.
·         Create a speech with a visual – The speech had to explain the non-profit and the health/societal issue as well as their service learning plan.
·         Proper citations for a minimum of two sources/1 visual had to be included.
·         Practice presentation skills and the integration of a visual
·         Present the speech
·         Blog about your process and progress.  (We used Kidblog)

My goal was to have classes vote for the service learning project they wanted to do; however, snow days and administrative restrictions made it impossible for us to pursue the projects we wanted to do. What we decided to do instead was to create informational mini-webpages about the issue and non-profit and we used HSTRY to do that. Our goal would be to tweet and share the links to these presentations to share what we learned and to possibly assist these non-profits in getting more support.

I’ll present a pictorial view of our process below as well as some of the student blog posts and HSTRY links to their projects- but I did learn some things along the way myself.

  1.  Start early and get approval for whatever you THINK kids might want to do ( no easy task when my students planned everything from a dance, to a car wash to a penny war). But I’m hoping that if I put in for at least 2 fund-raising events for charitable purposes and leave it open with explanation, it will be approved in advance.
  2.  As noted above, some projects were… well, a bit much. Putting restrictions on what students could or could not propose for their service learning plan probably would have eased some of my stress.

What surprised me? I thought since I was putting parameters around their project- it had to be a local non-profit or charity- that students wouldn’t be motivated, but I was wrong. The passion and work they put in equaled any project we’d done all year and in some cases, surpassed it. I saw students crying during their presentation about Alzheimer’s only to reveal their grandpa had it. I never would’ve known otherwise. Another student- her mother had diabetes and suffered from it terribly- she was so passionate she convinced the whole class, hands down, to support her project plan. Yet another young lady shared within her speech presentation for Northern KY Hates Heroin, how a family member had died from a Heroin overdose- none of us knew.

 Consistently, students would call me over to tell me over and over facts they learned preceded by “I didn’t know that….”  They worked before and after state testing when our school was one of the last in KY to be released. When their project plans were shot down by admin. I thought- Great, now what? There’s no way they’ll want to work on their HSTRY project this late in the game- but, again, I was very wrong. They spent hours in class not just creating but sharing their projects with one another.

In the end, we created our HSTRY timelines to share to the world but we also gathered items for Operation Christmas Child and canned food for our school district’s food pantry. One hundred and thirty  eighth graders were interacting with the world, sharing what they learned, and helping others all at the same time- most importantly, they became much more aware of the issues our state faces and grew closer as a class when they learned that many of their peers had family members who suffered from such issues as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even addiction to drugs/heroin.

Students had to create a project plan before they were permitted to research or begin their speech. 

Below- Student Speech Presentations- just a small sampling of the non-profits students chose to learn about and to share. 

          Below- Some Blog posts ( as students created their speeches and following speech presentations: 

(If you click on the image- it will open to a  larger size) 

Below are some of our HSTRY project Timelines: 

I should note that you will likely have to create an account with HSTRY to view these- it is free to join. However 
below are snapshots from two different student project pages done on HSTRY

You can find the student  project 
plan and my HSTRY rubric HERE. 

What are your students passionate about? Give them set time to explore that passion and you’ll be amazed at what you learn about them. Whether it’s a project that involves something they love or one that involves service learning (or both), Genius Hour/Passion Projects can incorporate the CCS, motivate students and can make learning a collaborative rich experience. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Investigating Self: Text Based, Project Based Narrative Writing Projects

I have been striving to find narrative writing projects that would take students beyond the rote ‘write to a prompt’ thing.  I also am painfully aware that whatever project we do, I still have to make sure students can write narratives for the state test on-demand portion of the assessment. So I began diving into project based learning sites looking for ideas and strategies while also working through a Deeper Learning MOOC and a Learning Differences MOOC, gaining new insights and resources concerning student interest, motivation and student centered learning.  Combine all this with several snow days in a row, and I began to put together a couple Narrative based projects. I believe that both projects will generate student interest because… well… it’s about them. When it’s personal, students often have inherent interest.

 Both projects also are text- based with multiple non-fiction readings that students would use as research and as reference as they write. One project asks students to write an essay and the other a letter, but both will hopefully produce reflective writing using narrative techniques.
Like any narrative unit, the key to success will be an intensive introduction to narrative and related techniques- looking at multiple mentor texts. I also plan to do some journal writing to get the mental juices flowing as we practice narrative technique. Ultimately, I want students to incorporate narrative technique in the below writings.

One assignment I want to incorporate first, is the “Letter to Your Younger Self”. I first stumbled on this when I came across an article about the idea (see resources below).  The article was not meant for teaching or students but it got me thinking: Instead of the all-too boring “narrate a time when you learned a lesson, or made a mistake and learned from it” students instead could write to their younger selves to uncover these ideas. If nothing else, it might provide seeds for future writing ideas.  I also liked the fact that students would be diving into nonfiction in the midst of our narrative unit. While it isn’t completely a project based lesson, it does have many components, as noted above, that I find important.

 A Letter to My Younger Self:

Essential Question: If you could go back in time, what would you do over? What would you change? What would you keep the same?

Brainstorm:  (The below brainstorm would be done in 1-2 days. The journal prompts would come after they do the brainstorming. Take a day for mistakes, and a day for achievements- These journal breaks will provide narrative description/techniques within their letter)

  • What do you love about yourself and what do you hate about yourself? Why?
  • Mistakes you‘ve made- what did you learn? What do you wish you‘d done differently?

                Journal- Take one big mistake that really sticks with you. Describe specifically what happened, thoughts and feelings, and reflect on why this was a mistake and what you learned.
  • Achievements you’ve had. Why were they achievements? Your thoughts and feelings on them?

                Journal- Think of one achievement that sticks with you. Describe specifically what this achievement was, how you made this achievement and your thoughts and feelings about it. What did you learn after you achieved this?
  • What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier in life?


  (I really like this article because it uses science to explain the importance of writing and reflection.)
Dear Me- (website is for sale the of the book but offers excerpts for reading)

Write: Write a letter to your younger self- express regrets as well as what you are happy with. Tell yourself what you wish for them; give your younger self advice.

Extension: Tech Integration
Write a letter to your future self

Birth Order and Your Personality:

The second lesson I developed is more in-depth. It has to do with a person’s birth order and how it determines our personality. This project is designed to submerge students in nonfiction readings about birth order and personality to produce an essay that reflects on this idea in their own lives.

Essential Question: Do you think that the order in which you were born affects your personality?

4 Corners
Have students go to each corner according to the following:
If you are an only child
If you are first born
If you are the youngest child
If you are a middle child
(Starting with this progression will help the ‘only child’ differentiate from being first born.)

Brainstorm:  Show Birth order photo above to get thoughts going.
Thinking about your birth order and your life thus far, how do you think your birth order affects your life? How has it molded who you are as a person? How has it affected your relationships with others?

-          Talk to those in the same birth order as you and discuss blessings and issues.
-          Talk to those in an opposite birth order as you and compare contrast:
o   Your personality traits
o   Blessings and issues

Research and readings:

Psychology Today (higher order reading) 

From the readings: Make a T-Chart- One side- parts that you believe  are true about yourself and the other side- parts you believe are untrue for you. 

You might add additional collaboration time for those in the same birth order to compare notes/discuss.

Survey: Create a survey on Google Docs- Create a new spreadsheet- set it up according to picture shown. You must list a minimum of five traits for your birth order.  Survey at least 5 people- parent(s) or guardians, siblings, friends, teachers, pastor, etc. Ask them to rate you on a scale of 1-5/ 5 most like you and 1 not like you at all/ for each trait noted for your birth order.  Choose 2 people you surveyed and ask them for reasons for their ranking for at least two (2) traits.

Journal- Discuss the results of your survey. Report results for at least two (2) people you surveyed.  Do you agree with their ranking/reasons for each trait? Why or why not? What surprised you? Why? If nothing about the results surprised you, why? Did the results support the research on birth order and personality? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is so? 

Some Fun Quizzes to Take:

Webmd (shows correct answer immediately after student answers.)
Parents Magazine (This quiz tells you what birth order you are, determined by how you answer each question. And if it is wrong their claim is –‘something made you this way so listen up!’ Only one question that would be beyond students- ‘you and your spouse are going to see a movie….’ But I think they could take this quiz nonetheless. Lengthy explanation follows after 10 questions are answered. Some ad popups for the magazine occur during quiz)

Write: Write a reflective essay about your birth order, your personality and how you get along with others/relationships – What is true and not true from the research? Why do you think that is so? Provide specific examples from your life and use at least two (2) readings as evidence.

A related project I came across – “The Two Sides of Myself” might make a nice extension to the Birth Order Project. You can find it here: “Two Sides of Myself”-    (While it is an art project,  students could write an essay about their two sides of self or write a reflective piece explaining the art work;  and/or you can work with the art teacher in a collaborative project!)

My goal was to include nonfiction and research with narrative writing in a project based environment. I also wanted the projects to be interesting and to seem different from the traditional stand-alone prompts they are used to getting (and will never write again outside of MS/HS), and I wanted them to do some inquiry and deeper learning.  Both projects allow them to take a deeper look inside themselves and will likely provide some lively discussion.

How are you making Narrative more project based? Please share! 

Photos from Creative Commons-

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Current Events as Springboard for Argument

Lately I have been gathering editorials and articles that relate to current events in order to expose my students to real world writing exemplars.
As teachers we struggle to find good writing examples to use as models in the classroom and we often come across... well... mostly substandard student written arguments about gum in school or some plea from a twelve year old to help save the dolphins. While these 'models'  can be good starting points ( I use them as non-examples for my students- what a good argument isn't), students don't often get to see that REAL argumentative writing happens every day for a variety of purposes and audiences. 
The best thing a teacher can do is pay attention to current events and then start digging for articles and editorials connected to these issues. Let students see that real people write about real issues every day. 
In this post, I will share some current events articles/videos/cartoons that I have found with teaching points that you can use in the classroom. 

The Measles

The vaccination/anti-vaccination debate has been waging and it has real implications for us all. 
In this blog post by Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, he declares that what we ignore or disbelieve does not make it untrue or impossible. It is a higher level reading for many middle school students, but his message overall is clear. So is his tone. This is a great piece to use for the identification of tone. Have students highlight portions of the text that clearly indicate the writer's attitude. The fact that the writer is an author and astrophysics professor lends him ethos and his use of logic to explain- logos. Both rhetorical appeals can be discussed using this post. Other aspects that students might learn from this post include the use of anecdote to start the argument and how he ties it in again later in the piece for impact. And of course, simply identifying the writer's claim can be a great starting point for all students. 
Here is  a great 5 minute Video from CNN exploring the debate of vaccination- both sides are presented- one from a parent's POV against the vaccine and one from a doctor's point of view. It is a very understandable video overall to explore both sides of the issue and the doctor offers a nice counter-argument in respect to the mother's point of view. 
This Article from offers some nice counterarguments to the biggest issues as to why parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. 
Editorial Cartoons are also popping up (no pun intended) concerning the Measles Vaccine Debate and they offer a chance to explore an artist's tone/message. This editorial cartoon offers the chance to discuss if Disneyland is getting a bad rap in all this since reportedly the outbreak began there. And if you want to jaunt a bit further into the political arena,  This Editorial/Cartoon has strong tone, denouncing both Christie and Paul in their Measles vaccination opinions. 

Remember, ELA teachers, this topic is a nice co-teaching prospect for both Science and ELA (and even World History) teachers to get involved in a research/writing opportunity! 

Snow Days 

Ah, glorious snow days! Students and teachers alike long for them. But if you experienced a VERY long May last year due to an exorbitant number of snow days, you understand that everything has its limits. Indeed many school systems have also recognized this issue and have derived avenues in which to remedy the situation. From this issue, many editorials have been written- from angry parents demanding less snow days and demands to "quit wussifying" our kids to those simply exploring both sides of the "snow virtual learning day"- the online answer to not being in school. 
This article provides both sides of the virtual learning debate and is a great springboard for students to use as a text based prompt/debate source. The article clearly lays out the argument for and against virtual learning days, providing video and reading for each side. Besides looking at both sides to prepare for a debate or to use as a springboard for a student's own argument on the topic, the title is clever and the writer's bias slips out as he starts the "Arguments against" side of the article and again in his concluding statements. 
Another article exploring  virtual learning day options is likely very challenging for middle school and more appropriate for high school due to its language- but tone is rampant throughout the piece and a great model for the various ways a writer might imply his/her attitude (quotation marks around words, for example) The ending to this piece- use of short punchy sentences- is very effective and a great opportunity to discuss use of sentence length for impact. 
From this simple topic you can find a plethora of articles and editorials surrounding the issue like 
This one- clearly a vote for virtual learning days (although it does present a bit of the "other side" of the issue too.) And even your visual students can be addressed through editorial cartoons such as this one and This Cartoon showing the implications of a snow day and that dreaded make-up day. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that an entire article/editorial does not always have to be used in class. If you are teaching anecdote- use that portion as a model, etc. It is also important to keep in mind that video and editorial cartoons can supplement a student's understanding and make the overall topic more interesting within the classroom setting. 

Finally, another great place to find argument and counter-argument is in the comments section of a blog or article. If you can find those that are 'fit for school use' you can snapshot them to use for discussion. Is the person's argument sound? Are they really arguing in the true sense of the word (using fact/evidence to support their point of view) or are they just quarreling? Do they set up their argument trying to establish their ethos? Do they provide logos in support?  Here is just one sampling of a discussion in the comments section about video games and if exposure to these games causes youth to become violent: 

Use of Ethos- writer sets up argument with "As a teacher...." 

In the first comment near the end, the writer sets up ethos "As an Avid video game player...." and the bottom comment is a clear example of quarrelsome vs a sound argument.

Be on the lookout for all kinds of argument in our every day lives- whether current event editorials, articles that offer both sides of an issue, videos, editorial cartoons or even the comments section of a blog post or article, you can find many real world examples to use in the classroom. 

All photos from Creative Commons use on 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Teaching Mood- Using Art /Teaching Short Constructed Response

Bulletin Board of Finished Humumet Projects 

When teaching mood, the first step in my 8 grade classroom is of course, discussing what mood is and  how it differs from tone. Typically I storm in at the start of class and start demanding in an irritated tone that they get out their books, some paper and that they need to get busy. I try to act extremely grumpy and irritated. I don’t let it go long before I stop and smile and ask two questions.
  1.        What attitude did I have?  (answers range from grumpy to mean to aggravated and others that will go unmentioned ;)
  2.          How did it make you feel? (nervous, upset, angry)

I tell students that my attitude was expressed partly through what I had to say- my tone. How I made them feel was mood. They really seem to get that.

We begin identifying mood with supporting detail using art work. Students examine works of art in small groups, identify the mood and select images/color, etc. from the art work as support. We practice writing paragraphs that use the A.C.E. (Answer/Cite/Explain) or P.E.E. (Point/Example/Explain) method.  This is an interesting and less threatening method to begin identifying mood with supporting ideas, and students seem to enjoy it. I was very pleased with the discussion that occurred as they debated the mood and how the art work supported that mood. 

Examples of Student Response for Mood from Paintings (Using ACE/PEE paragraph method for SCR)

The mood of the painting, The Boating Party, is lighthearted. There are cheery colors, like the baby’s pink clothes and the yellow boat. The mom has a loving, calm look on her face, so you know she’s not unhappy or anything. Cheerful colors and loving expressions give it a lighthearted feel.

The mood of the painting, House by the Railroad, is foreboding. The dark, blue colors make it seem suspenseful. They give off a feeling that something bad happened and that there is a dark feeling in the air. The shadows give off an eerie feeling, which is foreboding.

The mood of The Boating Part is light hearted. I know this because the mom is smiling, the baby is calm and not crying, and the boat ride itself appears to be peaceful. The painting itself is also brightly colored, which suggests a happier mood. This is how I know the painting portrays a light hearted mood. 

Next we looked at various short excerpts  from many YA novels and other sources.  The Raven Boys | Maggie Stiefvater is a great book with many descriptive passages that we used to decipher mood both in small groups and as a class.


We start by reading (and re-reading) and deciding if the mood is negative or positive and then we select the words/phrases that make it so. Finally, students choose a mood word and they continue practice in writing a short constructed response using the A.C.E. or P.E.E. method.

 The biggest issue with finding supporting detail is that after underlining or highlighting all the words/phrases that help to create the identified mood, students sometimes chose the weaker examples as support. When writing a short constructed response, students have a very limited number of lines in which to answer. They needed to choose the strongest examples and I particularly wanted them to be sure to choose the figurative language, identifying it as such, since the writer chose that simile or metaphor to specifically help  create the mood.

 In practicing to choose the strongest examples of word/phrases that help to create the mood, students created  Humumet (hew-mew-met). You can see what Humumet is and where it originated HERE.  (See "Intro" Link)You can also see the blog post that inspired this idea HERE, although tone was the objective in that lesson. (There are several more ideas on this blog post that can be incorporated to  teach either tone or mood,  including the use of  Google Forms to collect student responses). 

In creating Humumet, students had to select the strongest words/phrases that created the mood, boldly boxing those words in.  (We did this on several shorter passages before beginning this 

Next,  using colored pencils, they had to create art work that also depicted the mood. Some choose to depict the mood symbolically and others created the scene the passage described. Students had to defend their art work in a paragraph or more, explaining why/how their image supported the mood of the passage.  In creating Humumet, the art work should not completely cover over/block out the words of the passage and those words/phrases boldly boxed, should remain untouched inside the box. 

Examples of how Key words/phrases are boxed in. 

The artwork should cover the entire page and colored pencils work best since it allows for the picture without obliterating the text.  The idea is that with the picture/coloring and the boxed words- together one can interpret the mood of the passage. 

The above are using The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak

This image used an excerpt from The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Finally, students were put to the ‘test’ and they analyzed text on their own to determine mood with supporting detail from the passage. You can see a couple examples below. I was very pleased that students used key academic vocabulary in their answers and this was a direct result of using that vocabulary from the art work analysis at the beginning to the Humumet projects and the group practice of shorter excerpts. It took approximately two days to complete one Humumet. 

Overall the Humumet project and previous use of artwork allowed those students with weak verbal learning style to see another pathway into the idea of mood and how to identify it. I made sure to reinforce the key academic vocabulary throughout (connotation, figurative language, negative/positive, etc.) and it paid off when it came time to write short constructed response answers.

Bulletin Board Closeups