Julius Caesar

A favorite resource of mine, the Folger Shakespeare Library, is somewhat skimpy on lesson plans for Julius Caesar. I have only taught this play once before, earlier in my career. I don’t remember that anything I did then was in any way spectacular, memorable, or brilliant, and I would really like my current students to have a different experience. If you know of resources or have ideas of your own, I would love to hear them.

Blogs as Teaching Documents

I recently presented a session on using blogs and wikis in the classroom at the annual GISA conference. I focused on teacher and student-created and maintained blogs and wikis and didn’t touch very much on how we can learn from these tools. When I share my presentation with my own faculty in January, I would like to include this information. I probably won’t have to teach teachers how to figure out whether a blog poster has reliable credentials, but that would be necessary if I were sharing blogs with students. After all, I have a blog, and I can declare a recipe for cold fusion that really works, but no one should believe me if I do that — after all, my credentials as an English teacher are not exactly reliable compared to those of a nuclear physicist or even a science teacher.

Blogging history, literary and otherwise, seems to have developed into a major trend. I am very excited about this trend, as I think it makes history alive for students and makes the people they study seem like flesh and blood. I found several examples of such blogs.

Boston 1775 purports to be “a miscellany of information about New England just before, during, and after the Revolutionary War, and about how that history has been studied, taught, preserved, politicized, mythologized, lost, recovered, discussed, described, distorted, and now digitized.” It is maintained by J.L. Bell, a Massachusetts writer who specializes in Revolutionary War-era Boston and has written scholarly papers for children and adults and consulted in the show History Detectives.

The Blog of Henry David Thoreau makes Thoreau’s journals accessible to everyone with Internet access. It is maintained by Greg Perry, a poet who posts Thoreau’s journals on the corresponding date today. For example, on November 18, 2006, Greg Posted Thoreau’s journal entry from November 18, 1857.

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog is not so much a digitized version of a document produced by Chaucer as a vision of what a “blogge” by Chaucer might really look like; more than anything else, it’s just good satire. Reading this blog, one can get a feel for Middle English, a sense of the politics of the time, and most importantly, an appreciation for Chaucer. The site is maintained by an anonymous medievalist.

Pepys Diary is digitized presentation of the diary of Samuel Pepys, whose Restoration-era diary is an excellent primary source document of the period. It is maintainted by Phil Gyford, a UK website designer who bases his site on the 1893 edition of Pepys diary, which was edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

These are just a few that I know about. Please share your own discoveries in the comments section.

Essential Edublogging: The Reflective Teacher

One of the things I like about the Reflective Teacher is that he posts frequently and honestly about his classroom — what works and what doesn’t. He shares his ideas. I think more than many education bloggers, he really treats the edublogosphere like a faculty lounge. Frankly, I think too many folks are in such desperate teaching circumstances that they need their education blog to vent and kvetch about their jobs. I don’t begrudge them that, and I often commiserate, having been in some not-so-pleasant teaching circumstances at other points in my career. However, it is refreshing to see Mr. Teacher’s enthusiasm, not to mention the fact that his site is really attractive and he makes really pretty handouts. He has an eye for document/web design.

In addition to his regular blog, Mr. Teacher also administrates Think, Pair, Share. This blog was orignally a compendium of lessons, but I think Mr. Teacher has had trouble getting submissions; that’s just the way it is in education — we are, for the most part, stretched too thin. It’s a shame because ideas like this are wonderful ways to learn new approaches to our curricula. He plans to continue contests for lesson plans and to update the site with links to relevant educational sites.

Which education blog do you have trouble doing without?

What’s Your Learning Curve?

I obtained my first teaching certificate in 1997 upon my graduation from UGA. I taught for one year at Twiggs County Comprehensive High School and then for three years at Warner Robins High School in Middle Georgia. Upon relocating to North Georgia, I did not immediately find a teaching job. I did find a temporary teaching job as a daycare facility’s pre-K teacher, and though I was not certified to teach early childhood or primary school students, I believe I was the only certified teacher at the center. I worked for two years at Snellville Middle School following my pre-K job, after which I ended up back in high school (where I belong) at the Weber School. This is my third year at Weber.

I have a theory, and I am interested to see what any of you think of it. My theory is that it takes a teacher two years teaching at the same school, same subjects, in order to feel completely comfortable — like a competent veteran. I have noticed that each time I worked at a new school, I felt like a first-year teacher all over again. Each school as a different curriculum, culture, climate, and system of rules. It seems to take me two years to get all that down. After this point, working as a teacher seems easier. I already have, for example, handouts, quizzes, tests, and other materials already prepared, so it takes me less time to plan. I have already had time to teach material and learn what works well and what doesn’t. I get to know what my students will most likely already know or will already have done by the time they come to me. It’s a wonderful feeling. It really makes me feel more organized. I also feel like I get assignments graded more quickly — probably because creating materials takes less time.

For only the second time in a career in its tenth year, I feel that sense of comfort that comes with working at the same school for the third year in a row. What about you? How long do you think it takes you to feel comfortable and completely competent at a teaching post?

Twenty Most Common Writing Errors

I presented my session on using blogs and wikis in the classroom at GISA’s conference last Monday.  I think it went OK, but it might have gone better.  I was glad it was in a computer lab.  I do think the materials I handed out were first rate, but I was feeling sick, so perhaps my actual presentation was off.  Who knows?  A few people were nice and thanked me.  I kept wishing I had some of you with me to talk about how you use blogs and wikis in your classroom, but I worked with what I had.  It was nice of the host school to put me in a computer lab so we could visit different blogs and wikis.

The session I attended in the afternoon was presented by Jim Stelljes from Marist School.  The subject was the twenty most common writing errors.  I thought it was great, and Jim encouraged us to share his handouts.  One handout was a double-sided list of all the errors with examples of both incorrect and correct versions, so students can identify and avoid the errors.  He also shared with us a Power Point presentation, which I recreated to share with my own students.  You can download the presentation here: On the Write Track.  I don’t have copies of the handouts available on disk.  They were fairly detailed, and I don’t plan to reproduce them on my own; however, if it sounds like something you want copies of, just use my contact form and give me an address to mail them to, and I’ll be happy to do so.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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 del.icio.us. 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 del.icio.us 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 del.icio.us 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.