January 2015 - Room 213

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It's Going to Be Epic-A Secondary ELA Giveaway!

I am so excited to announce a giveaway that I'm hosting with Mary Beth from Brain Waves Instruction.  Fifteen TpT Secondary ELA sellers have teamed up with us to offer one lucky winner an amazing package of products.  We wanted to put together a prize that would be a collection of resources that any ELA teacher could use at any time.  They are all non-text specific and cover a wide range of activities and genres.  The winner will receive resources to use for reading, writing, research, poetry, speech writing, media literary and more--it's the kind of prize I would want to win myself!
Check out exactly what you can win (or download a clickable PDF of each seller's entry HERE):
Room 213:  Close Reading Lessons 
The Daring English Teacher: Editable English Tests
The Language Arts Classroom: Write a Tabloid for a Mobile Device
The ELA Buffet: Poetry Close Reading

Here's the best part--you get up to 50 chances to win!  Just follow each seller on TpT, Facebook or her blog; every click gives you a chance to win this amazing bundle of products! 
Winner will be announced on Sunday, February 8th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Creating a Digital Syllabus

It's change of semester time, so we high school teachers are reverting back to start up mode.  It's time to begin again, which is a nice thing to do in the dark days of winter.

Last August, on my old blog, I shared the digital syllabus I was using for my classes.  I had a number of people ask for a template but was too busy to make one up.  Well, now I have a bit of extra time (actually I'm avoiding marking exams), so I'm reposting this idea with a link to the template I used.  A syllabus is a very individual thing, as we all have different information to give to our students, but if you're interested, you can use this as a starting point and adapt it and make it your own.

Why do I use a digital syllabus?  I want to use much less paper, so the information is going on line, on our course website. If there is someone who doesn't have internet access, I will print it off for them.  Secondly, I wanted to create a syllabus that they will actually read, not just shove to the back of their binders, as I know they have in the past.  We all know that this generation is much more likely to read it if it's on a screen!

I've included pics of the syllabus I use (minus the personal info) followed by a link to the template.  If you use it, I'd love to see what you come up with!  



Click here for access to the editable template:
Template for Digital Syllabus
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Out of the Deep Freeze We Go!

I have joined up with some amazing secondary bloggers who are pulling things out of the deep freeze.  No we aren't offering leftovers covered in freezer burn; instead, my colleagues and I would like to share an ideas that may have been buried away, ones whose time has come!

I'd like to give you a few "recipes" that will get your students' brains out of the frozen state, ones that will energize and wake them up, so they are ready to learn.  I do not have the secret to creating a class of students who sit on the edge of their seats, eager for every lesson you throw at them, but I do believe that if we get them out of those seats as often as we can, that they are more ready to learn.




We all know from experience at staff meetings and PD
sessions that there's nothing more deadly than having to sit for long periods of time and just listen--at least for those of us who would prefer to be active.  In fact, no one ever said that the best way to learn is on your butt--it's just easier for us to deliver our lessons that way, and it's certainly seen as less "disruptive".  (Now there's an idea that needs to go into the deep freeze--a busy, active classroom is one that invites learning rather than disrupting it!)    If you'd like some ideas for incorporating more movement into your classroom, you can download this FREEBIE.  Also, in my last blog post, I wrote about how I used movement as I helped my students prepare for their exams.

If you like the idea of activating the kinesthetic aspect of your students' learning, I have two other products available at my TpT store. The first is the Kinesthetic Essay, a step-by-step explanation of how I reinforce the essay writing process by having the students build a "physical"one.   The other is my Grammar Games Bundle.  In it, you will find games that will help you reinforce some common grammar rules while the students get a chance to get up and get moving.  Imagine, having fun with grammar!

I hope you found some ideas to keep your students from "freezing".  Enjoy hopping around to the other blogs to see what they have taken out of their freezers!




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Getting Ready for Exams--it's a PROCESS!

Our exam week begins on January 23rd, and for my IB students it will be their first "practice" session for their exams in May of 2016.  The biggest thing I want to impress upon them--as with all of my students--is that reviewing for an exam is a process, not a cram session.  They need to approach it as a thinking exercise, not a memorization one, if they want to be successful.

In order to practice for their exam next week, I gave the students three short stories to read. Last week they analysed each story on its own; this week is all about finding links between them and figuring out how to approach the kinds of questions they will see on their exams.

To the left, you can see the graphic organizers I gave them.  They had to brainstorm: author purpose, important elements and literary devices for each story.  On the next sheet, they had to find links between the stories.

If you'd like a copy, you can find it here: Finding the Link handout

Where'd everybody go? 
Next, I told them to take their paper and pens and go for a walk-and-talk to discuss all of the links they found between the stories.  By getting out of their seats and moving, they are activating the kinesthetic learning style, which can help with the thinking process.  These kids love the walk-and-talks!  In fact, even when we are doing individual seat work, I will have kids  ask if they can go for a walk-and-think.  Give it a try sometime!

After they returned, and we had discussed all of the links they found between the three stories, I showed them an example of a question from a previous IB exam. Before we even began relating it to the texts, though, I took the time to talk about the importance of reading and understanding the question.  I modeled how I would re-read, underline and make notes just to be sure I knew what to focus on.

Once they had a handle on what the question was asking, they did some brainstorming for how their texts could relate.  Their homework for tonight is to write a thesis statement and at least two topic sentences, which they will share tomorrow.

But class wasn't over yet.  I had placed three pieces of chart paper throughout the room for each of
the texts that they will be responsible for in the exam next week.  Each student was given a marker, and s/he had to add one important element for each text.  After they had done that, they walked around the room with their notebooks, brainstorming links between the texts.  It was an action-packed and productive class!

Next up: practicing outlines for the exam.  Oh, the fun we will have this week!





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My Favourite Ways to Start the Semester

It's that time of year again for high school teachers: we are either finishing up a semester or starting a new one, so it's like September all over again.  Last August I posted a series of entries on my old blog on favourite ways to start the year.  Here they are again:
I often mix things up, try new things or a different order of events, but I always start with a few activities that are designed to get my students’ heads in the game.  It’s a game I want them to play all year, one that has them engaged and open to new ideas.   I want them to think and to express their ideas freely, and I want them to be able to respectfully challenge the ideas of others.  Now, I’m not living in Utopia: I don’t always have a class full of  eager, vocal students–but at least I try to create an environment where they can be.  Over the years I have come up with several activities–or borrowed them from others–that I feel are good ones to start the semester, and I’m going to share them with you over the next couple of posts.
Rights BalloonThe first exercise I use is called The Rights Balloon game, an activity that I learned about at a conference years ago–I would give credit, but I can’t remember the guy who presented this wonderful idea.
This is how it works:
Instruct students to write the numbers 1 – 10 in a column on a piece of paper.  Project this picture and tell them that they need to use their imaginations, that they are alone in a hot air balloon, crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  The basket of the balloon contains ten very heavy boxes, each containing the ten rights listed on the screen.  So, one box has the right to vote, one has the right to a clean environment, etc.  All of a sudden, they realize that the balloon is going down and the only way to keep it in the air is to start throwing boxes over the side.  But there is a catch: once a box is removed, they will never have it in their lives again.  Ever.  If the right to vote goes over, they will never have that right again.  The game is this: they must quickly decide which boxes/rights they can most do without, and which ones they will hold onto until the bitter end.  Give them 60-90 seconds to decide.
Tell them not to bother writing down the rights, but just to record the order that they would throw out the boxes–if the right to vote would be the 7th box, they will write 7 beside #1, etc.  Remind them that #10 is the box they could do without the most; #1 is the most important one to them.
Once the are finished, tell them to quickly locate the first three boxes to go and have a discussion.  In my experience, they will almost always choose the right to vote, the right to paid holidays and  the right to equal protection before the law.  This isn’t a surprise in a North American classroom.  Most of them would never have had paid holidays, so they would be easy to give up, I point out.  However, if their parents did the same exercise, would they throw that away?  Not likely.   And what of the right to vote?  Again, most will never have had it–but would their parents throw it away?  Maybe…we tend to take for granted rights like that (voter turnout rates show us this).  However, I have had refugee students in my room, children whose families came to Canada to escape persecution in their native country.  Do they throw out the right to vote and to equal protection before the law?  Nope.  They are the last boxes to go.  We discuss these things:  does this mean Canadian teens/adults are spoiled and entitled?  Maybe.  Is one choice right and another wrong?  Hmmmm… What it means for sure is that our experiences taint our choices.  We believe things are important–or not–because of our experiences.
Next we look at the boxes that they held on to until the end.  Usually there is a smattering of interesting choices, but almost always, the class is divided between the right to food and water and the right to love and affection as their #1 box.  I have them put up their hands for a visual and ask the food and water people why they chose that one–and they look at me like I’m crazy.  “Isn’t it obvious?” They ask.  Well, then, I say, are the rest of these people crazy or incredibly stupid?  No, the love and affection people respond–if they can’t have love, they don’t want to live.  Ahhhhhh….. Again, we discuss the idea of our choices and values.  If all laws are being followed, there is no clear cut right and wrong.  We see things differently.  That’s a fact.  And it’s a fact that I want everyone to remember in my class so we can have discussions where everyone’s idea and beliefs are respected.  It’s a concept that often needs to be revisited, but all I have to do is remind them about the hot air balloon and they know that I want them to remember that we are all different.  And that’s ok.
If you want the powerpoint that I use, click HERE.
Do you have any favourite activities for the first of the year?  Leave me a comment if you do!
Check out my other favourite ways to start the year here: Part TwoPart Three and Part Four.


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Sick Day Solution

Recently, I switched over from wordpress, and I've decided to do a series of my favourite posts from my old blog there.  Here's one from this last September:
So, it only took three weeks.  Monday morning I woke up with a terrible cold/flu and I ended up missing three days.  For three days I attempted to come up with meaningful things my students could do, something that can be hard at the best of times, but even more so at this time of year when I’m still working on establishing skills and habits I want them to use all semester.  I managed, except for one thing.  My international baccalaureate class had passed in a writing assignment for The Merchant of Venice that my sub sent home to me, because I wanted mark it.  I did want to mark it because it is a building block, something I need to give them feedback on before we move on.  But I just couldn’t do it.  My head was too full, and I was too achy, for me to concentrate on their work.  We all know it’s not fair to mark something when you’re in such a state.
I arrived at a solution that I first thought was just an easy way out of my dilemma.  On further thought, however, I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to do some formative assessment that puts the responsibility squarely on their shoulders, not mine.  Here’s what I did:
I had an exemplar written for that paragraph, so I made up a sheet  that had the paragraph and a checklist for what I expected the paragraph to contain.  You can see it  here: Portia Paragraph Assessment.    I passed it out to the students, along with their pieces of writing.  I asked them to compare the two and then check off what they did correctly in their paragraphs.  After that, they had to write a short note on the bottom of their writing that told me what they need to do to improve.
The reason I think this was a good way to go was not just because of my still fuzzy head, but because I think I stumbled accidentally on a good practice.  My experience has been, sadly, that many students don’t read the feedback I give them; they are only interested if there is a mark.  This way, I gave them a model and had them do their own assessment of how their work matched up.  It forced them to reflect on their writing in a way that my scribbles in the margin may not.
When they had finished, I tested my theory by asking them which method they learned more from–my usual feedback or this new way.  They were unanimous in saying that they did more thinking and learning with the self-assessment.  Of course, they made it clear that they still want mine, and they will get it, but I will certainly use this method for more formative assessment in the future.
Being sick wasn’t such a waste of time after all…
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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year,  everyone!  I hope you had a restful holiday and are looking forward to 2015.

I don't usually make resolutions, but this year I am.  The first is that I have to start exercising more regularly (I know, me and many, many others...).  I used to exercise at least three times a week, but this year I got into a rut, and it hasn't been good.  So, I'm making a commitment to myself that I will get off the couch and start moving every day.

My other resolution is a professional one.  I'd like to try some new things in my classroom, ones that will cause me to stretch outside my comfort zone.  When you have been teaching for over two decades (writing that makes me feel so old!),  it is easy to fall into doing what you've always done--because it works.  It's all about those ruts, folks. But, just as my pants are getting too tight because of my fitness rut, my lessons are getting tight as well.  They just don't feel good anymore; I'm no longer comfortable, and it's time to make a change.  I know what I am doing now works, mostly, but with what I've learned in the last year, I also know that if can be better.  I plan to blog about my journey, so you will hear all about my successes and failures!

One of the first things I am going to try is using mentor sentences.  I love the idea of showing kids good models, and I always have with writing assignments.  But, with mechanics, I have been just using the worksheet--teaching them a grammar rule and then having them correct sentences that contain that error.  I've been reading a lot about the use of mentor sentences (mostly with younger grades) and am working on some lessons and products for high school students.

So, as you head back to school for the new year, I hope you go back ready to stretch and grow too!

Congratulations to Janie Fahey, new follower, and winner of $25 dollars of product from my TpT store.  Send me an email, Janie, at room213custom@gmail.com.
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