An Update on Classroom Blogging

Initial post about using WordPress/Blogging/Feedly in the classroom

Several weeks ago, I discussed my desire to have my students begin blogging in the classroom.  My plan was to have them create their own WordPress accounts and write both creatively and academically, both inside and outside of the classroom.  The school year is only 3 weeks old now and I have successfully assigned two blog postings.

Blog Assignments:

  1. “Convince Me” Final Draft
    1. Students will participate in a Think-Pair-Share in order to create a list of the characteristics of a convincing argument.
    2. Students will share out their responses to create a master list of all the characteristics.
    3. Students will read a sample argument essay in which the major parts are labeled.
    4. Students will create their own definitions of the parts of an argument essay based on the samples and their purposes.
    5. Students will respond to the following prompt: I am a flexible teacher, so if I hear a convincing argument for something, I will give it genuine consideration. I typically assign homework three days a week. Write a one-paragraph argument that attempts to convince me to cancel assigning homework for Eng IV.  Alternative: You may like homework, so you can argue for why it should still be assigned.
    6. Students spent three days between peer editing, reading samples and grading them, and studying other argument essays before writing their final draft that is uploaded to their blog as their first posting.
  2. “To This Day” Inspired Poem
    1. In our synthesis essay unit entitled “Haters Gonna Hater,” I had students read multiple texts from various genres that all dealt with bullying.  One poem that was included in this unit was “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan.  There’s a fantastic rendition, in addition to the TEDTalk, of “To This Day” that you can watch here.  
    2. Students worked with “Arm Partners” (someone that is within arm’s length of their original seat) to read through the printed version of “To This Day” and they completed a Close-Reading analysis.
    3. After sharing their analysis with their partners, students watched the video version of “To This Day.”  This is the version we watched:
    4. Students were asked to discuss the specific writing choices that were made that separated this poem from others they had read.
    5. Finally, students were asked to write their own versions of “To This Day” in which they mimicked Koyczan’s style.  The topic was bullying.  Their poems had to be 10 stanzas with a minimum of 6 lines each.  This poem was posted on their blogs.

Top Ten Teaching Resources for 2014-15

I am two days away from attending the first day of pre-planning for the 2014-15 school year.  It will mark the start of my ninth year of teaching, which means I have been building up quite the large bag of tricks to utilize both in the classroom and in my curriculum development.

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Today, I thought I would share with you some of the materials that I am most looking forward to using this year.  They include lesson plans, worksheets, and teacher resources.

Top Ten Teaching Resources for 2014-15

(In no particular order)

1.  Standards Tracking Chart

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LAFS 1112 Tracking Chart Generic

2.  Bloom’s Taxonomy Question Stems

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A list of question stems that are categorized by their Bloom’s level.  All six categories are listed.

Blooms Taxonomy Question Stems

3.  Teacher Reflection Worksheet

This template is setup to be a traditional lesson plan, however, I am going to be using it as a reflection tool instead.  I teach three preps, so I will have three worksheets per week, one per class.  Where each of the days of the week are listed, I am going to reflect on what worked, what needs to be modified, and anything else that is appropriate for the lesson.

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Teacher Reflection Worksheet

4.  Literary Devices in Literature Chart

I don’t know why I didn’t start this sort of document in the past, but it struct me while reading Jane Eyre, reviling in Charlotte Bronte’s writing style, that there were many different literary devices being used.  “Gee, that would be a great example of how to use anaphora in a real-world situation to show the students!”  And the rest is history.  I will be adding to this throughout the year and beyond.

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5.  TED Talk Worksheet

This is a worksheet that can be used with any TED Talk that you want to use in your classroom.

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TED Talks Worksheet

6. Diagram for Writing an AP English Essay

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 9.31.36 AM 7.  Creating Classroom Norms Activity – Beginning of the Year/Semester

After explaining what norms are and why they are important, I have the students break out into groups to create a list of norms they would like to see implemented into the classroom.  After we vote on our top 5-7, I print up a document that states them and all the students sign it.

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Community Agreement and Norms

8.  Classroom Rules Through Memes

Rules for Getting Along in Room 204 Erm

9. Close Reading Strategy: SCOUT

Resource: The Readiness is All blog

S: specifics (Locations, Characters, Time, Words, Choice of Details)
C: comparisons (symbols, metaphors, imagery, allusion etc…)
O: organization both sequential, what comes first and what comes last; and spatial, don’t bother looking it up, for me spatial organization is repetition, contrast, and questions like why is this paragraph or sentence so short or so long in comparison to the ones next to, or before, or after it. Organization also encompasses syntax.
U: unusual– this one is of course more difficult to explain, but I find it crucial. I want students to notice when things are different than expected. I want them to notice when generic conventions are broken, when something seems modern or just off. Those glitches in the matrix are often breadcrumbs leading down a potentially interesting rabbit hole.
T: Theme examples– This takes us full circle back to T3 (Topic/Tone/Theme) What are the quotes, symbols, plot events, motifs, characters etc… that point us back to theme and ultimately purpose.
Ideally I want students to find one or two of each of these. I might have them work in expert groups or I might just pick one or two of the SCOUT ideas to focus on for a particular work. After SCOUT-ing a work I want them to write their SCOUT discoveries in the form of a short paragraph of analysis. Before they write it down I want them to write down the page number and whether it is at the top, middle, or bottom of the page so we can quickly find the source of the evidence during class discussion.
Here is a list of literary terms for the S.C.O.U.T. process that I also use for the B.R.A.W.L (Battle Royal All Will Learn: a competitive team based Socratic Seminar process)

10.  Close Reading Strategy: 3T

Resource: The Readiness is All blog

So before we can discuss a piece of art (I use the word art to refer to any artistic endeavor including writing) we need to understand its specifics. When we talk about topic we are talking about basic comprehension: vocabulary, setting, situation, choices of details, characters, color, line, stroke, subject etc… if a student doesn’t understand a word or an allusion they will miss out on the ultimate intention and any corresponding theme.
Tone is the sulking Satan sitting on a ledge fuming over his Pandemonium. I require all students to have just ONE definition of tone. Tone is the author’s attitude towards the subject and the audience. Tone is crucial to understanding any piece of art. Tone starts with the title of a piece and works its way down and out. Tone can be tongue-in-cheek, playful, ironic, despondent and more. Tone colors every specific covered in the TOPICsection and leaves us with a palpable emotion. Students also need to understand the difference between tone, atmosphere and mood. Often in class I’ll say something like “listen up scumbuckets of Hades… I love, love, love teaching English.” The students quickly see that I can have one Tone (negative- illustrated by an epithet) towards the audience, and one tone (positive-illustrated by the repetition of the word love) shown towards the subject.
As we return to John Connor’s difficult decision we move into the pragmatic section of an artist’s purpose. (See this post for a brief discussion of the four purposes of art) Artists teach. They grab our attention by foregrounding an experience. The artistic dialogue is Hegelian in nature. There is a thesis made, a push back by the audience and society and then a synthesis of understanding. This is theme. I tell students that topic is what the story is about, but theme is what the story is REALLY about.
A poem that I love discussing early in class is Marge Piercy’s poem “Beauty I Would Suffer For,” or her poem “A Work of Artifice.” Her poetry is dripping with tone and has a fairly easy to understand initial theme. Of course there are more complex themes at work that you can explore later. I would link to the poems, but I’m not sure if the ones you find online are authorized postings by the poet.
If you want to really challenge your class, you can have them do a T3 with William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say.” I enjoy using his poem once students experiment with the S.C.O.U.T. process which I will discuss in my next post.

Love of Language: Mark Twain’s “Corn-Pone Opinions”


I have a confession to make.  I have never read a Mark Twain novel, even the biggies: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  It isn’t because I don’t have respect for Mark Twain, it’s just that I was never provided the opportunity throughout my own education, nor have these two novels been incorporated into any of the curriculums that I have taught from.  I have read the short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” but admittedly, that is the beginning and ending of my Mark Twain exposure.

As I switch off my University of Cincinnati Student hat to my AP Lang fedora, I have stumbled upon my next encounter with Samuel Langhorne Clemens.  Our current unit presents the topic of popular culture, and while one may not think about a novelist and essayist from the 1800s as someone whom should be included, after reading his essay, “Corn-Pone Opinions,” I dare say that it is the very site in which the conversation should begin.


If we consider what makes a trend, a fad, a fever catch fire, and by definition agreed upon the masses, popular culture’s definition is: the mutually agreed upon qualification of…something.  Twain’s purpose for writing this essay is two fold: A.) To define what a corn-pone opinion is, and B.) that all corn-pone opinions are based upon the need for people to seek out other’s approval; politics, religion, morals not being excluded from topics that are directly influenced by corn-pone opinion development.


Corn-Pone Opinion: (Noun) Broadly speaking, it stands for self-approval.  An opinion based upon the assimilation of thought to conform to the majority in hopes of receiving approval

It’s not my goal to debate his thesis, but to share with you the eloquence in which he supports himself.  Because of the nature of Advanced Placement Language and Composition, the need to analyze for rhetoric and purpose, appreciating how something is said and not its message, as well as my devotion to sharing my love of literature, I wish to share with you my four favorite quotes from this essay.

  1. A trend begins by someone changing the norm.  For six months (give or take depending on the part of the country you’re from) people laugh.  Six months later, people reconciled and the norm violation is accepted and admired.  No one laughs.
  2. Public opinion resented it before, public opinion accepts it now, and is happy in it.  Why was the resentment reasoned out?  Was the acceptance reasoned out?  No.  The instinct that moves to conformity did the work.  It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist  What is its seat?  The inborn requirement of self approval….But as a rule our self-approval has its source in but one place and not elsewhere – the approval of other people. 
  3. The matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies.
  4. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people.  The result is conformity…I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it’s born of the human being’s natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise –  yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted and must have its own way.


This is real corn-pone bread:


Corn-Pone Recipe

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