Phrases Jeopardy

Some time ago, I gave detailed instructions for creating a Jeopardy game with MS Power Point.  I was excited about a new software program that purports to do the same thing, but is much less cumbersome; however, I haven’t been able to get it to work.  When I try to save the game, the program crashes.

Oh, well — back to the tried and true.  For those of you grammar teachers who want a handy review for phrases (adjectival and adverbial prepositional phrases, verbals, and appositives), feel free to steal download my Phrases Jeopardy Power Point.  I’ll tell you, this was great on the SMART Board!  Instead of Double Jeopardy, I created three lighting round questions.

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Vocabulary Cards

I was not really happy with how vocabulary instruction went in my classes last year. Our school purchases really good consumable vocabulary textbooks, but I had the feeling that my students’ grades were impacted too much by vocabulary. In some cases, students who did really well on vocabulary quizzes and always did the workbook exercises had inflated grades, and students who were otherwise good students, but struggled with some aspect of the vocabulary assignment, had grades that I didn’t feel accurately reflected their progress in English.

I knew I wanted to do something different this year. I was going to go with Jim Burke’s idea of vocabulary squares, but I ultimately decided the squares were too small and the students would balk at using them. Even if I told them to create their own large squares, it just seemed too cumbersome. Of course, perhaps some would argue that what I did instead was cumbersome, but I’m pleased with the results. I adapted Jim’s idea into vocabulary cards. Now, I know there is nothing new under the sun, and someone else probably does the exact same thing, but I figured I’d share anyway, and maybe you’ll get a cute handout out of it if you like the idea.

First of all, I ask students to buy 3×5 ruled cards. On the blank side, they write the word and a drawing, symbol, or icon that helps them remember it. I have twins in my class that drew pictures of each other for “petulant,” which made me smile when I graded their vocabulary. On the ruled side, students give the etymology, part(s) of speech, definition, synonyms, and use the word in a sentence.

I gave them a handout modeling the process, which you can download here: Vocabulary Instructions. It has a permanent home on my Handouts page, also.

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Have you heard about NaNoWriMo?  I have been hearing about it (and scoffing, I’ll admit) for about five years.  I finally decided to see if I was up to the challenge.  I must be crazy to think I can do this with three kids and a full time job teaching, but it isn’t as if sitting on my rear scoffing about it for five years has enabled me to put pen to paper.

You can follow my progress if you like at my personal blog and NaNoWriMo profile.

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Updates and Organization

I have re-organized links in the sidebar so you don’t have to hunt for my other sites. In a box entitled “Links,” you’ll find links to my classroom wiki, classroom blog, GISA Educators’ Wiki (set up for participants in my upcoming GISA presentation in November), lesson plan wiki, and student blog.

I encourage you to check out my students’ work at their wiki and blog.  We are doing so exciting things right now (or, I should say I am excited, at least).  I have added some material to my lesson plan wiki.  I have found that I don’t have as much time to add material to that wiki as I would like — oddly enough, I’m too busy planning and teaching to actually find time to share, too, but I’m trying to be better.  I now have my Colonial and Revolutionary American literature pages restored over there.  Every time I look at it, though, I’m aware of how much I still want to do and I suddenly feel very tired.

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Every once in a while, something funky will happen with Firefox, and I will lose all the links in my Favorites. It is very irritating, given that it shouldn’t happen anyway, because then I have to hunt down the links and save them again, assuming I remember what they were — didn’t I “Favorite” them to begin with because I wanted to find them easily later? Anyway, I’ve given up on saving links that way. I figure it is too much of a gamble. I know some of you folks that know more about technology might be kind and try to help me troubleshoot my problem. Don’t worry about it. I have started saving all of my links to I have had an account for well over a year, but I didn’t really use it much until recently. I think the last time I lost all my Favorites, I thought, “That’s it! I’m sick of this!” Also, using has the added benefit of being available to me on whatever computer I decide to use, rather than just my home desktop.

Robert shares some of his links on Tuesdays. I decided perhaps sharing my own links once a week might a) give me something to post about at least once a week, which is hard when things get busy, b) enable me to share some things I use and/or learn with other teachers who might be interested.

My first link is something you may have seen if you regularly read The Reflective Teacher. A few days ago, he posted a link to Brian Benzinger’s post “Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part 1” at Solution Watch. I don’t constantly bug my colleagues with links, but I thought this one was so valuable, I not only sent it to the entire faculty at my school, but also shared some of it with my students. One of my students told me he has already tried the application Gradefix and loves it. Brian now has Part 2 up, so check it out, too.

Another link that I have used extensively over the past few weeks is this ReadWriteThink lesson plan, “Reader Response in Hypertext: Making Personal Connections to Literature.” The author of the lesson plan suggests using this lesson plan with novels “that contain a strong sense of place, that focus on closeness of characters, and that are metaphorical in character, such as A River Runs Through It, Montana 1948, and The Bean Trees.” Based on examples in the lesson, my assumption is that the author, Patricia Schulze, uses it with A River Runs Through It. I used it with The Bean Trees, which is a summer reading selection for incoming college prep 9th graders at my school, and I have to say it worked very well. Instead of creating websites, however, I elected to adapt the lesson to a wiki, which made creating the sites and editing much easier, I think. You can check out my students’ Bean Trees Wiki and see what I did with this lesson plan. At this point, all of the students are supposed to have four quotes and four writing assignments posted, but there are a few who need to get caught up.

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Clock Buddies

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s an idea I got from our biology teacher. Essentially, “Clock Buddies” is a system of group work that I have found (after using it a great deal in several classes over the last few weeks) to be very effective.

Students are given a handout that has a clock face on it. They sign up with twelve other people for “partner” assignments. Once they have a buddy for each time on their clock, you are ready to go. Next time you want students to work with a partner, tell them to work with their 9 o’clock buddies (or whatever number you prefer). Students have choice in terms of who they work with, but they also work with different people. Hint: Students usually sign up with their best friends for 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock, so if you want to make sure they really buckle down, you can avoid calling those times often.

Download the handout by ReadingQuest: Clock Buddies (PDF)

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Teacher Man

Teacher Man by Frank McCourtThis afternoon, I finished reading Frank McCourt’s third memoir Teacher Man. When asked by new friends why he waited until he was 66 before publishing Angela’s Ashes, he explains,

I was teaching, that’s what took me so long. Not in college or university, where you have all the time in the world for writing and other diversions, but in four different New York City public high schools… When you teach five high school classes a day, five days a week, you’re not inclined to go home to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom.

I couldn’t have said it better. Teaching is exhausting, physically and psychologically.

I wasn’t able to finish Angela’s Ashes. At the point when I realized the twins would die, I had to put the book down: it was too depressing. I haven’t read ‘Tis, either. I picked up this book thinking it would be right up my alley, and I walked away feeling that I was right.

It was interesting to see McCourt second-guess himself, to feel he wasn’t a good teacher at times. It was a joy to celebrate with him after a particularly good lesson. I have had moments in my teaching life in which I, too, felt like an utter failure, punctuated by moments when I know I’ve really hit it — I have really taught a great lesson. It’s an amazing feeling. I feel like I could fly afterward, and it is that feeling that McCourt so eloquently captures in his book.

I can’t recall where I read this now, but one comment from a reviewer stands out to me after reading this book. “McCourt hates his students.” I have to wonder if that reviewer read the same book I did. It was clear to me that McCourt loved teaching, especially after he began teaching creative writing at Stuyvesant High School. That he cared deeply about his students is evident on each page. Did he complain about some of them? Sure. Show me a teacher who has never done that — you can’t. That teacher never existed. And each teacher is sure the kids in his/her generation were more respectful, more engaged, more… whatever. McCourt tells it like it is — in his thirty years of teaching, the kids didn’t change. Indeed, his late 1950′s students were just like students I’ve had. However, I also noted that even if he complained gently, he often wrote in the next few pages of reaching a new understanding or peace with the student he was having trouble with. I did not sense any resentment in the end. I think he was very happy with his career in the end, despite wondering at times if he had done the right thing in becoming a teacher.

I came away from the book wishing I had been a student in his class. His classes sounded so interesting, so different. He actually reminded me so much of a colleague at my current school, a fellow English teacher, that I bought a copy of Teacher Man and had it sent to my colleague at school. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did.

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