Fall Back in Love with Teaching This Valentine’s Day!

V day

By third quarter, the pencils are wearing down, the pens are running out of ink, the students are getting antsy for spring break, and the teachers are starting to burn out.  It is the perfect time to  remember why we do the job we do!  Here are some tips to fall back in love with teaching this Valentine’s Day!

1. Remember what teachers make. Most teachers have seen this viral video or read some version of it, but I think that February is an ideal time to hear it again!

2. Have patience. Remember that teaching is not usually a game of instant gratification.  We must trust that we are helping students build skills and we are making a major difference in their lives.  Sometimes they don’t realize our impact for many years to come.  To  maintain patience in difficult times, I keep a file of student notes and emails from over the years, which sometimes come months or years after graduation.  When students tell me that my work impacted their lives, I cherish those documents and pull them out when I need a little pick me up.

3. Take some risks. Have you always wanted to try socratic seminar, debateliterature circles, flipping the classroom, new technologies, or any other classroom strategy? Just do it.  Switch things up and have fun!

4. Send positivity. After progress reports, parent conferences, and intervention sessions, parents and students have heard your suggestions for improvement.  This month, try to send a few notes or emails to let parents or students know that you have noticed their hard work or success.  Your LMS may allow you to make email templates to easily send emails to praise a great test score or note improvements.  It will feel great for all parties involved!

5. Do some spring cleaning. Okay, so technically it is still winter, but it is considered the spring semester so spend a little time cleaning, organizing, or creating a new bulletin board.  Of course, pinterest is a great place for inspiration.  I also love this blog post from Sam and Scout and of course my blog post about some American lit inspired decor.

6. Treat yourself. Maybe it is time for that pretty new iPad case you have had your eye on.  Maybe a new outfit is in order (check out this tumblr for ideas on great teacher fashion!).  Whether you need a good massage or a little retail therapy, you’ve made it through the 20+ weeks of teaching this year, you deserve it!

7. Keep learning. Sign up for a workshop, read some blogs, get around to opening that teacher book that has been sitting on your desk for months! Learning a new teacher trick or finding new ways to think about your classroom philosophy will help productively push you past the third quarter blues!

What do you do to fall back in love with teaching?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

6 Tips for Teaching Presentation Skills

PresentationsAs English teachers, much of our focus tends to be on teaching students to be effective readers and writers, but we can’t forget about the importance of teaching students to be confident and compelling speakers.  As they go into the world, they need the skills to collaborate with others, seek information, and present ideas with clarity. That being said, I often hear students groan at the introduction of a presentation project and I hear teachers in in the faculty lounge bemoan the lack of presentation skills found in many of their students.  In the spirit of helping us all feel a little more comfortable with presentations, today I want to share 6 tips for teaching presentation skills:

1. Work up to a major presentation. Instead of having one or two major presentations during the year, consider giving short, practice presentations early on in the school year, which can lead up to more substantial projects.  They don’t have to take up much time in your curriculum either; students could present for one minute about some aspect of the summer reading assignment or 30 seconds about correct usage of a vocabulary word.  Giving students low-stakes practice can help them to feel more comfortable in front of the class and can give you an idea about presentation strengths and weaknesses to address before the big show.

2. Directly teach students to use visual aids effectively.  It seems obvious to most teachers, but students don’t always think about how a visual will play in a presentation.  They need to be explicitly instructed on how to reference images without turning their back on the audience, how to structure the font and word count of a powerpoint slide, and how to handle any needed audio-visual equipment. These things don’t come naturally to many students.

3. Harness the power of technology. There are so many applications, websites, and devices that can help students practice and manage their presentation.  For example:

  • Prezi.com can create dynamic visuals with easily embedded videos and pictures.  It also has a voice-over option for students who are unable to present for some acceptable reason.  Click here or here for my prezi tutorial posts.
  • Timer apps can give students cues to manage time.
  • Google hangouts can be used for students to practice their presentation with peers in a way that can be done from the connivence of their own homes and can be monitored/graded by a teacher.

4. Create an encouraging and supportive environment.  One of the main reasons that students are so anxious to present is that they are afraid of facing the class in this very formal way.  Teach students how to be a good audience and enforce those standards!

5. Give students a rubric for success. We have to spell out exactly how students can find success so that the hesitant ones don’t give up before they have even started.  You can google class presentation rubrics, use rubistar, or create your own rubric.  Here are some things to consider adding to the criteria:

  • Eye contact, body language, and poise
  • Enthusiasm and elocution
  • Subject knowledge, organization, and mechanics
  • Use of visual aids
  • Supportive listening (I give a grade for being a good audience during other presentations after I discuss what that looks like.)

6. Model a student assignment.  We present in front of our students all the time, but in ways that differ from the requirements for a formal presentation.  I think it is very helpful for students for the teacher to break the ice doing a similar presentation to the one students are working with.  The teacher presentation should probably be a little longer so there is time to stop and point out what the teacher is doing and why.  For example, pointing out the clear size and font of a powerpoint slide or the difference between reading to the audience and glancing down at notes.

Do your students like to present?  What tips do you have for our teacher community?  Share in the comment section below!

Teacher Tip: An Easy Way to Create Sheltered Research and Argument Projects

Sheltered ResearchDuring this time of year, the research paper dominates the English department in my school.  We slog through the sometimes painful and sometimes engaging process of finding credible sources, creating a documented argument, and using MLA format.   I wrote about teaching research papers in this earlier post if you want to know more. Today I want to share a quick tip for creating sheltered research and argument papers without a ton of background work for the teacher. By sheltered research, I just mean that teachers provide the sources for students to synthesize as opposed to students being open to all possible sources. I find that these assignments are ideal for preparing students to do longer, more independent and scholarly research papers later.

Benefits of Sheltered Research: 

  • The teacher controls the type of sources used, which can help students avoid the pitfalls of inappropriate sources.  They must learn about the pitfalls later, but hopefully after they have the confidence to use reliable sources.
  • The research timeline can go much faster when students are given the sources so teachers can fit research in even with other priorities and testing schedules.
  • It is easier to track down plagiarism and misreading when the teacher is familiar with the sources.
  • MLA citation teaching can be more directly guided when the teacher knows exactly what type of sources students will be citing.

Goals of the Assignment: 

  • Students will read professional sources on a given topic.
  • Students will develop a thesis and argument on a topic.
  • Students will synthesize a given number of sources to support their argument.  (I usually say that they must use 3 sources, but that number can vary.)
  • Students will properly quote, paraphrase, and cite sources.

Finding Resources: 

You can take the time to look up articles and print them for students or link them to your website, but I would like to draw your attention to an easier way that may work for you. Many newspapers create online collections around topics, which offer a wealth of contexts and perspectives.  Using them also helps keep the research current without the teacher redoing work every year or so.  Here are some links to topics that may intrigue students:

Students look through the headlines and select articles to read and use.  The nice thing about using a newspaper database is that students have a variety of articles to spin their paper without the significant limitation that results in 30+ identical papers.  Depending on the population you serve, you may need to find newspapers that are more relevant or acceptable to your area.  More scholarly articles can be found in library databases, of course, but I find that newspaper articles are much more accessible to students early in the process of learning.

What do you think? Would you use these resources?  How do you find research to provide to students without spending hours planning?

Favorite Lines from Literature

We recently had a conversation in our office about a line from To Kill a Mockingbird in which Scout says, “I never loved reading until I feared I would lose it.  One does not love breathing.”  I so love this.  I wanted to save it, and not forget it.  I wanted poster of it on the office wall.  So where do I go to find quotes for things I love (and want to keep close)?  You guessed it – Pinterest!  As I browsed, I was inspired by so many quotes from so many books that I created a new pinboard of Amazing Lines from Literature, and decided to make a few beautiful pins to go along with the so many beautiful, funny, and inspiring lines from literature.  Here are a few of my favorites.  Feel free to pin to your boards.  What are your favorite quotes from literature?

Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird Quote   Anne Frank Diary of Anne Frank   Betty Smith A Tree Grows In Brooklyn   Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights   Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities   Jane Austen Pride and Predjudice   Zora Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God Quote   Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 Quote   SEHinton The Outsiders   Orwell Animal Farm Fitzgerald Great Gatsby

15 Ways to Review Before the Next Test

ReviewOver the years I have gone back and forth about the necessity of review days.  Sometimes they have felt like a cop out or a waste of time and sometimes they have felt like a much needed way to pull together the big picture from a long unit of study.  Review days can also be a strategy for teaching students how to study, which they can then take into other courses.  I think the keys to review days are:

  • having a variety of strategies to pull from according to subject, length of unit, and type of upcoming assessment
  • keeping the goals in mind and avoiding busy work (Goals may be SAT vocab rote memorization, literary analysis essay preparation, or many other necessary pursuits)

In the spirit of adding to our collective review toolbox, I’m sharing 15 review techniques, and I would love to hear your additions and thoughts in the comment section below!

1. Create a timeline: This is especially effective for reviewing a novel or play.  Students can work alone or in small groups.  You can also include a requirement for properly cited quotes or visual aids.

2. Add a post it: In this technique, the teacher places large poster boards around the room with topics to review and then students add  post it notes about what they know from that topic with no repeats!  For example, for a 20th century American poetry unit could have large posters titles: The Imagists,  The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, The Harlem Renaissance, and Robert Frost.  After students add post it notes, you can go over them as a class and organize them in ways that make sense.  Students can write down the notes or take a picture at the end.

3. Silent ball:  I love this game!  I explain it in detail in this post if you want to click over.

4. Jeopardy and other game templates:  These can be found in google presentations and be easily modified to fit your topic.

5. Student created quizzes: Allow students to anticipate and prepare for questions on the test.  This is a great strategy for students preparing for other classes and college too.

6. Jigsaw presentations or gallery walks: In pairs, groups, or individuals, give students a part of the overall content and have them create presentations or visuals to help reinforce their concept.  For example, students could each tackle a literary or poetic device.

7. Quizlet: This is especially powerful for studying vocabulary or sets of facts.  I explain how I use it in this post.

8. Quiz, Quiz, Trade: In this Kagan inspired technique, students create flashcards and move around quizzing each other and trading cards.  Something about moving while studying really helps some students.  I explain further here as part of my tips for spicing up summer school.

9. Graphic organizers: Challenge students to use a graphic organizer to make sense of their notes.  On the board, draw examples of flow charts, Venn Diagrams, T charts, spider maps, and other organizers and then let them use their own logic to create!

10. Map it out/Make connections: After I have done a few of my visual maps in earlier units, I challenge students to come up with the best map for a later unit.  Here is my post about the visuals I create.

11. Highlight important notes: It is simple, but a lasting technique that students can do on their own time after walking through it once with a teacher.  Some students would just never think of this simple strategy for studying any subject.

12. Mnemonic Devices: Challenge students to create mnemonics in the form of pictures, songs, acronyms, or other memory joggers.  They can share them with each other after creating them.

13. Text convos: It is a little silly, but students have fun using text language to write memorable dialogues between characters or using vocabulary words.  The conversations should be laced with the information that they need to know.

14. Snowball fight: I have a co-worker who enjoys this game, which you can read about here.

15. Socratic Seminar: I find this especially helpful when students are preparing for essay examinations because it helps them see more perspectives outside of the obvious.  I explain the way socratic seminar works in my room in this post.

What would you add to this list?  We would love to keep this list going!

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