February 28, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in March

February seemed like one long snow day and lesson plans got shifted around quite a bit,  but we finished literature circles and I read 10 more books.

February seemed like one long snow day with lots of headache about the return to in person learning. We started back in person with a hybrid model in mid February, but just had our first full week last week due to snow, parent conferences, and President's Day. Lesson plans got shifted around quite a bit as a result of the weather, but we did finish our literature circle novels on time just with fewer discussion and activities than I had originally planned.

I didn't read all of the books on my February TBR list, but I did read 10 books keeping me on track with my goal of reading 2 books a week (and a total of 104 by the end of the year). I'm now up to 20 reads so far for 2021!

Reading in March
In February, I read 10 books, matching pretty much what I read in January: one young adult title, two middle grades, three adult, and four audiobooks (two of those were young adult, one was middle grades, and one was a nonfiction young adult adaptation). Some of what I read was on my TBR, most of them weren't, but I am pleased with the mix. Several of the titles on this month's to be read list are repeats from the past two months, so I can work on clearing off my bookshelves. Here's what I'm hoping to read:
 

Teaching in March
To wrap up the trimester, students will be creating an infographic based on a topic from their literature circle novels. This is my first time doing a project like this, but I think I've structured it for student success. We'll kick off the project by doing a gallery walk (digitally) of sample infographics. Students will examine the layout and design strategies, thinking about what is effective or not, and what they might want to imitate in their own. Then students will choose a topic from a list of topics connected to their literature circle novels. 

For each topic, I curated four sources (three readings and one video) that students can use to collect information for their infographic. Students will spend two days researching and then create a rough draft in Google Drawings or on paper. Before students create a final draft, I'll give students a day to play around with a few different tech tools and choose the one they feel most comfortable with. I'm planning on two days for creating the final draft, but will also set up a platform for students who finish earlier to share and give feedback to each other.

This project will span the last week of Trimester 2 and the first week of Trimester 3, which will give me a little break from grading new student work and time to finalize student grades for Trimester 2. I made the mistake of assigning an essay at the end of Trimester 1 and had to quickly get them all graded before report cards. 

After finishing up the infographic project, we'll have two weeks to get started on our "Dealing WIth Disaster" unit before spring break. Last year I started with a research project, but I'm not sure how I feel about doing two projects back to back. Instead we may read a nonfiction piece focused on the Boxing Day Tsunami, "Mammoth Shakes and Monster Waves," and Ray Bradbury's short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," which was a big hit with students last year. I'll also kick off the unit with an introduction to the types of disaster, both weather related and accidental/caused by humans.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

February seemed like one long snow day and lesson plans got shifted around quite a bit,  but we finished literature circles and I read 10 more books.


Everything You Need to Host a March Madness Poetry Tournament

Hosting a March Madness Poetry Tournament is a great way to read and reread poetry as students examine elements and pick favorites.

Ever since I generated this list of 32 poetry pairings, I have wanted to try out a March Madness Poetry Tournament in my own classroom and finally got my act together last year. I printed out packets of my 32 pairings for students to share and posted a giant bracket to fill in as we went along. I began each class with students reading a few poems, examining a selected element, and voting on their favorites. Click here to make a copy of the Google Slides I intended to use at the start of each class.

Unfortunately schools closed last year in the middle of the month due to the coronavirus and our March Madness Tournament had to get a reset when learning resumed online in April. All of our poem examinations and voting had to shift to online activities.

This year my school is operating on a hybrid schedule with certain groups of students in certain days of the week while other students opt to remain fully virtual, so our poetry tournament will remain virtual although I am bringing back my giant bracket.

Getting Started
The first thing to decide is how many poems you want to include in your tournament. I go for the full 64 to be true to the NCAA tournament, but know some teachers narrow that down to 32 or even just 16. On day one of the tournament, I have students read through all 64 poems and do an initial vote of their favorites the 64 poems are paired by similar topic and many include links to readings of the poem (by the poet if possible). Click here to make a copy of the Google Slides with the 64 poems and click here to make a copy of the Google Form for the initial voting. I have a very wide bulletin board in my classroom that I use to hang up my bracket and update daily. Click here to make a copy of the Google Slides with the printable bracket and here to see it the highlight video on Instagram that shows it all together.

Taking A Closer Look
Once we've narrowed the original 64 down to 32, we start to take a closer look at the poems, rereading 4 a day and spending about a week focused on different elements: tone, language, making connections, theme, and the importance of titles. Many of the elements are ones we've learned earlier in the year, so I do a quick mini-lesson to review. Click here to make a copy of the Google Slides with the mini-lessons.

First up is tone. We review that tone is the author’s attitude toward a subject, or how the author feels about who or what they are writing about. I give the students a list of 25+ words they could use to describe the tone of the poem. As we read or listen to the poems each day that week, I ask students to give examples of words in each poem that help to reveal the tone. Students record the tone of each poem and then vote for their favorite of each pair in a Google Form. Click here to make a copy of that Google Form (you will have to fill in the poem titles and match up numbers based on your own students' previous voting).

Next up is language. We review that authors use figurative language and descriptive language to bring their poems to life and create images in their readers’ minds. I provide definitions of similes, metaphor, personification, and imagery for students. As we read or listen to the poems each day that week, I ask students to give examples of figurative language or imagery in each poem. Students record the types of language used in each poem and then vote for their favorite of each pair in a Google Form. Click here to make a copy of that Google Form (you will have to fill in the poem titles and match up numbers based on your own students' previous voting).

Hosting a March Madness Poetry Tournament is a great way to read and reread poetry as students examine elements and pick favorites.


Then we move on to making connections. I reassure students that poetry can be challenging to read and understand. Making connections is a strategy they can use to help find meaning in any text by connecting it to their background knowledge. I review the three different types of connections they might make with a text: text to self, text to text, and text to world. As we read or listen to the poems each day that week, I ask students to give examples of connections they can make with the poems. Students record those connections and then vote for their favorite of each pair in a Google Form. Click here to make a copy of that Google Form (you will have to fill in the poem titles and match up numbers based on your own students' previous voting).

After that, we dip our toes into theme. I tell students that themes in poetry can be quite obvious, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the theme doesn’t make itself clear and is instead up to the reader. I encourage them to read aloud the poem as that often helps with understanding the theme. I give students a list of 25+ “big ideas” or topics that can help to determine the theme of a poem (note: I do teach my students that theme is a statement, not just one word, and that these topics are just a starting point for theme). As we read or listen to the poems each day, I ask students to give examples of "big ideas" they find in the poems. Students record those "big ideas" and then vote for their favorite of each pair in a Google Form. Click here to make a copy of that Google Form (you will have to fill in the poem titles and match up numbers based on your own students' previous voting).

Finally, we examine the importance of titles. I remind students that authors choose their words for a reason, especially in poetry when an author is using so few words to express their ideas. The title of a poem might be the most important word choice of all because it's the first thing they see and can shape the way they understand the poem. I provide students with some questions to help them decide why the poet chose a particular title for their poem. As we read or listen to the poems each day, I ask students to give reasons why they think the authors chose the titles of the poems. Students record those reasons and then vote for their favorite of each pair in a Google Form. Click here to make a copy of that Google Form (you will have to fill in the poem titles and match up numbers based on your own students' previous voting).

Wrapping Up The Tournament
The final vote asks students to chose their favorite of the last two poems standing. I ask them to provide reasons why they chose that poem and ask them to give reasons connected to the elements we've examined: tone, language, making connections, theme, and the importance of titles. I also ask them to share their favorite of the initial 64 poems. Click here to make a copy of that Google Form (you will have to fill in the poem titles and match up numbers based on your own students' previous voting). The next day in class, I reveal the winner of the tournament and we give it one last read or listen to celebrate.

You can find all of my resources for the March Madness Poetry Tournament here and all of my other resources for teaching poetry here.

Hosting a March Madness Poetry Tournament is a great way to read and reread poetry as students examine elements and pick favorites.




February 21, 2021

Teaching Symbolism to Middle & High School Students

Use these ideas for teaching symbolism to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

While symbolism is a higher level concept that some students can struggle with, it is also such an engaging concept to teach because symbolism is all around us: in songs, movies, commercials and on posters and billboards. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce symbolism in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Build Students' Background Knowledge
Symbolism can be a fun literary conversation, but students don't always understand the concept. To ensure that students are able to analyze symbols, you will want to explain colors, everyday gestures, common symbols, intangible symbols, and weather. With these tips for talking about symbolism, teachers can find a successful way for talking about symbolism with secondary students. You can read more about these tips here and as extra help, I've included a free download of 101 activities for literary analysis. . . with an entire section devoted to symbolism.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

Use these ideas for teaching symbolism to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Play Symbolic Pictionary
Before playing the game, you will need to create a slideshow with an abstract noun on each slide (you could also use concrete nouns, specially people or places). Some ideas include determination, power, speed, intelligence, violence, and peace. To play, first break your students up into teams and make sure each team has drawing supplies (whiteboard and markers, paper and crayons, etc). Once a word is revealed, teams begin discussing and drawing a possible symbol. After the allotted amount of team, each team reveals the image that they have drawn and points are awarded. You can read more about the rules of play here.

Introduce The Symbolic Arc To Create Layers Of Understanding
The first arch of the symbolism arc is filled with an object's concrete details (what is looks, smells, sounds, tastes, feels like). The second arch of the symbolism arc is filled with an object's abstract traits, the associations we make with the object because of society, culture, tradition, etc. In the third and final arch of the symbolism arc, students make connections between the concrete details and the abstract traits to determine a possible symbolic meaning. You can read more about this strategy here.

Use Music Videos To Look For Symbolism
Before students dig into printed texts to look for symbolism, start them off with symbols they can actually see. While there are so many choices for music videos, it is often best to use something students are already familiar with (and obviously school appropriate), Musical numbers from Disney movies work well. This blog post from Lit LearnAct describes using "Let It Go" from Frozen to note important objects, describe their purpose or function, and then consider a possible symbolic meaning.

Keep An Eye Out For Objects Of Importance
When you do begin to look for symbols in printed texts have students look for references to concrete objects, especially objects named in titles, and consider whether they could be symbols. Students should also pay special attention to objects or places that are repeated or described in detail. When analyzing a short story or part of a novel or play, assign each student or group of students a page number and ask them to list any objects mentioned. Ask students to share out what they found to create a class list, tallying the number of times an object is mentioned. Beginning with the most frequent mention work down the list discussing the meaning this object might carry with it.

Use these ideas for teaching symbolism to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

February 14, 2021

Teaching Theme to Middle & High School Students

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

While theme is a concept I like to teach early and often each year, students first must have a strong understanding of the other literary elements that play into it. The events in the plot, the conflict that develops, and the actions and reactions of characters all help to reveal the theme of a text. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce theme in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Define What Theme Is (And Is Not)
Before beginning to analyze theme in a text, be sure that students have a solid grasp on what a theme is and is not. When you ask students to define theme, their response may really be a definition of main idea, a topic, or a moral (and depending on the source of their online search, the definition they find may not match what you are teaching). This blog post from Secondary English Coffee Shop includes a graphic that clearly defines each term and gives examples of each from "Little Red Riding Hood." You could have students repeat the differentiation of the chart with examples from other fairy tales or well known stories.

Give Students Multiple Opportunities to Process And Practice
Determining the theme of a text definitely requires some high order thinking skills and some students may not "get it" at first. Allow students to review the definition of theme and how to find one with videos like the ones in this blog post from Teaching ELA With Joy Sexton. Sometimes hearing someone else explain it in a slightly different way will help it click for a student. Then practice using stories are familiar with, fairy tales or stories you've previously read as a class, or use short films like the ones made by Pixar. 

Try Out Thematic Triads
When students are trying to craft their theme into a sentence or a thematic statement. I start with a list of "big ideas" like love, hate, honesty, deception, pride, beauty, etc. and have students select as many big ideas as they see connecting to the text we are examining. Then I ask students to share out the most important three ideas present in the text. We make a list as a class, tallying up the times each idea is mentioned. Then I model how we can connect those three big ideas into a sentence, and voila! we have a theme. Students practice coming up with a theme using the top two or three big ideas they selected. Often what they come up with is a variation of what I modeled, which leads to discussion about how there is no one theme statement. This Edutopia article discusses the same strategy.

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Analyze Using Graphic Organizers
Many components of a story fit into explaining a story's theme. Secondary students might be able to articulate a story's theme, but they can't always explain how characters, the plot structure, a motif (and more!) contribute to the development of that theme. With a variety of literary graphic organizers, a teacher can highlight certain sections and examine details with students. As students flesh out ideas about the story, they'll realize the influence of other components on the story's theme.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Synthesize Literary Elements In A One Pager
When I think about literary elements, it’s hard to imagine teaching them in isolation. Yes, I introduce concepts (setting, plot, theme) separately, but in order for students to truly GET literary elements, they have to be able to analyze how authors use all of them to create dissonance and harmony in a text. I use one pagers to help students practice and apply this idea of extending thinking and seeing the connections between literary elements. With distance learning, I recommend using digital one pagers to chunk the process for students. It’s less overwhelming and allows us more time to provide meaningful feedback. How does setting impact the theme? How does a character’s development help to shape the plot and drive the conflict, which, in turn, develop the theme? Understanding theme is a process of synthesis, and literary one pagers are a perfect vehicle for that type of thinking.
*Recommended by Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven

You can find all of my resources for teaching theme here.

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

February 7, 2021

Teaching Point of View to Middle & High School Students

Use these ideas for teaching point of view to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

An understanding of point of view as well as perspective is key to interpreting any fiction or nonfiction text. Students need to be able to understand an author or character's view point as well as its impact on the information or narrative presented. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce point of view in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Hold A Point of View Scavenger Hunt

Help students become comfortable with identifying point of view with a scavenger hunt. Pull children's books from your home or classroom library, or borrow some from a lower grades teacher. Students can work on their own or in groups to find at least one book that matches each type of point of view that you have taught. Students should record the titles of the books they found and at the end of the activity, these titles can be shared out in a whole class discussion. Students can confirm or challenge each other's identifications.

Use Mentor Texts For Analysis
Mentor texts can provide an interesting approach to teach language and literary analysis. With point of view, mentor texts can provide clarity. First, students can choose the lines that articulate point of view to them. Second, the teacher can provide several lines from literature to show point of view. Students can then choose what line best helps them. Lastly, the analysis of mentor texts naturally leads to literary analysis. Check out some famous mentor texts for teaching point of view.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

Introduce The Nuance Of Perspective With Poetry
I make teaching point of view and perspective engaging by using dialogue poems as mentor texts. The reading and writing of these poems help students grasp character complexities that definitions and worksheets can’t convey. Students improve their understanding of the psychological, moral, and cultural traits of characters. Although the classic book, Joyful Noise – Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman, is geared toward younger students, I use examples from it as a starting point for my high school students and then add more age-appropriate poems that I’ve found online.
*Recommended by Kim, OCBeachTeacher

Use Images To Reinforce Perspective And Types Of Point Of View
In this blog post from Teaching With a Mountain View, she shares how she collects images to use for this activity on perspective and point of view. Each image is glued to the center of a piece of paper and then the paper is separated into five different sections: perspectives, first person point of view, and the three types of third person point of view. In pairs, students first list the different possible perspectives for an image. Then, they rotate to a new picture and write a brief narrative of what was happening in the picture in first person point of view using one of the perspectives the previous pair has identified. Students rotate with their partner until each pair has practice writing in each of the points of view.

Play With Perspective And Point Of View In Fairy Tales
Ask students to select a fairy tale and rewrite the tale from the viewpoint of a different character or object within the tale (this is a genre of fairy tales called fractured fairy tales). Students may enjoy looking through the selection on Sur La Lune and choosing an old favorite or one that is new to them. Let students share out a part of the original and a part of their rewrite to facilitate discussion about how changing the perspective or point of view changes what we learn in a story.

You can find all of my resources for teaching point of view here.

Use these ideas for teaching point of view to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.


February 1, 2021

Tackling the Text Dependent Analysis Essay

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.

Text-dependent analysis writing is when students are given an essay prompt that asks them to provide specific evidence from a literary or informational text while demonstrating the ability to interpret the meaning behind the evidence they provide. When my students come into sixth grade this is not a type of writing they are comfortable with.

The first few times students respond to a text dependent analysis essay, I balance modeling with gradually releasing the students to write independently. We start with a whole class writing of the introduction. Then I assign just one body paragraph. Then next time we tackle a prompt, we may again work through the introduction as a whole class and then I’ll assign two body paragraphs. Gradually we build up to writing a full five paragraph (or more) essay.

Breaking Down Text Dependent Analysis Essay Prompts
Before I even attempt to have students write a response to a text dependent analysis prompt, I introduce them to the structure of these types of prompts so that they are aware of and recognize the pattern. Without knowing how to break down the prompt, they will not know what to write about.

Text-dependent analysis prompts typically follow a three line structure. Line 1 introduces the literary element in focus. Line 2 introduces the task related to that literary element. Line 3 instructs students to use text evidence in their response. Before assigning a text-dependent analysis essay, it may be helpful to review the structure of this type of writing prompt with students so that they are aware of and recognize the pattern.

Examining A Model Text Dependent Analysis Essay
Especially when we are first diving into writing text dependent analysis essay, I will write a model essay responding to the same prompt, but focusing on a different text from the ones my students will be writing about, a text my students have also read. Doing this, rather than using a generic model, really helps students to model the structure of their paragraphs and even sentences. They can also understand the examples in the model essay because they've also read that text.

Again, when we are in our early stages of learning how to write a TDA essay, I annotate the model essay with students to have them to identify the components of each paragraph in a text-dependent analysis essay. I like to annotate the introduction and then have students write their own, annotate the body paragraphs and then have students write their own, and finally annotate the conclusion and then have students write their own. This chunking allows students to immediately try out the structure of each type of paragraph after annotation.

Brainstorming the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
Brainstorming is probably the most crucial step of the writing process when writing a TDA essay. I use a graphic organizer to help students identify the examples they will use to respond to the prompt. On the graphic organizer, students include how they will introduce and explain their examples as well as a direct quote and a page or line number. Once students have completed their brainstorming organizer, I take time to review it to ensure that students’ examples connect to the prompt. Taking the time to check students' brainstorming saves me so much time later when I am reviewing the body paragraphs students have written. For students that are struggling at this stage, I provide them with page or line numbers to look back at in the text, or reduce the number of examples I am asking for from that student.

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.


Drafting the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
In addition to using a graphic organizer to help students brainstorm, I also use a graphic organizer to guide students through drafting their essay step-by-step. Like the brainstorming organizer, students are asked to include two examples per body paragraph. When I model writing a body paragraph, I show students how the ideas from my brainstorming organizer can plug right into the essay organizer, which again is why the brainstorming stage is so crucial.

Modifying the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
There's a variety of ways I modify this type essay (or really any essay) for students with IEPs or struggling writers. During the brainstorming and drafting stages, I often reduce the number of required examples per body paragraph to one instead of two. Another frequent modification I use is adding sentence frames to the organizer to help students start their sentences since getting started is often the hardest part. Another possible modification is filling in one body paragraph in the brainstorming and drafting stages for students to refer to as a model for the other two body paragraphs.

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.

Revising & Editing the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
I've found color coding to be the most effective and engaging way to have students revise. Who doesn't want their writing to look like a rainbow? When students revise their essay, they follow step-by-step directions to highlight the different sections of their essay. This allows them to very clearly see that they do or do not have all of the necessary components in each paragraph, and to make additions as needed.

Some of the revision steps also require students to use the comment tool to make note of important parts of sentences. They use the bold tool to help them identity transition words and phrases. The final step is a reminder to use the spelling and grammar check tool (I'm always amazed at the number of students who will turn in an assignment with the red squiggly underlines still there!). Students mark off each step as complete as they move through the steps to help them track their progress and then review their essay for what needs to be added.

After students have completed the self revision activity, they can engage in a peer revision activity, in which a peer gives feedback based on the highlighted sections of their essay. Students are provided a mix of comment banks for feedback and more open opportunities for praise or suggestions. Once complete, students return the feedback to their partners to make necessary changes.

Scoring the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
I use a 4 point rubric to score students on focus, organization, content, and style with specific descriptors for each point value of each category. During remote learning I've started using Google Classroom’s built in rubric for scoring. Besides making it incredibly easy to score assignments online, once the rubric is created it can be used over and over for other assignments.

You can find my resources for writing text dependent analysis essays here

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.