The most popular books with my 6th graders this year were YA novels that became movies (Divergent, Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, etc). This is probably partly because those books got so much publicity (plus they are awesome). My students usually don’t think to ask their friends or teachers for good book recommendations, so I created a project where my kids broke down the elements of their favorite books and practiced sharing their favorites with the class.
My favorite novel is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It is a quirky, laugh-out-loud funny, off-beat type of book that I picked up during my freshman year of college after a recommendation from my friend Lauren. (See how useful recommending books can be?). I based my example off of this novel.
I cut construction paper in half length-wise, and then made all the foldables myself while my students were taking their finals. (This was a last week of school activity). Here is a video on how to make the blank foldables:
I’m not a great artist, but I copied an element of the cover of the actual book and did my best to match the font. I required my students to draw cover art as well.
I wanted the Setting tab at the top because that is the smallest tab to write on. I listed each category in order by how much room students would need to adequately explain that element of the story. (P.S. My writing is quite crude and simple in each of these examples so that it could serve as a realistic 6th grade model).
The conflict is where I wanted my students to draw other people in. They needed to explain enough about the story to get readers interested, without giving away the resolution. The crazier the details about the story, the better!
This is generally the hardest section for students to complete, but theme is something that we have been working on identifying all year, so it also served as a bit of a cumulative assessment. I remind them to consider the question, What does this book say about how life works?
There is really only enough room here to list two to three characters. I asked students to just list the characters and then give a brief, but colorful description of each one.
As with the conflict section, the summary should leave readers interested in finding out more about the story. There is no need for elaborate explanations. Students should simply try to hook other students into wanting to read the full book.
And there you go! This project took two class periods, lots of construction paper, and my big box of colored pencils. I made the blank foldables, and I told students to bring copies of their favorite book from this school year. I kept the completed projects, so I am going to make a display board at the beginning of the school year so that my new students will have plenty of book recommendations at their fingertips.
As they worked, I also played this YouTube video by BooksAndQuills to encourage my students to seek out book recommendations and discover new books.
This year my school piloted the new SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) tests with just two computer labs for the entire school. The online tests take quite a bit of time, so for several weeks, the whole school was on a block schedule, meaning that class periods were a little over two hours long. Some days we saw our 1st, 3rd and 5th period classes, and then the next day we had our 2nd, 4th and 6th period classes. There was one day when I took my English classes down to the lab for testing, but for the rest of the 3 weeks or so, I just had very long class periods. I know that many schools operate on block schedules all the time, but it was a bit of an adjustment for our kiddos.
(P.S. It drives me absolutely BONKERS that the name of California’s testing company is Smarter Balanced. English teachers, do you see why? It should be Smart-LY Balanced, or Smarter BALANCE, but I think a margarine company already took that one. I just have to say “SBAC” or else I gag.)
I knew it was going to be tough for my middle schoolers to make it through a 2-hour block, plus have the stamina to finish two days’ worth of lessons in one sitting. So I made a deal with them that every time we had a block period, we would stop halfway through and watch a surprise video. They were allowed to stop me at any point in a lesson at exactly the halfway mark, and we would take our video break. This gave me leverage at the beginning of class, (“Come on guys, you just need to focus for about 15 more minutes and then you’ll have a break!”), and the videos I chose tended to inspire students to do well for the second half of class.
A huge part of the reason that I became a teacher is because I want to teach kids to become kind, compassionate, globally conscious people. This break time gave me the perfect opportunity to use videos to teach them important life lessons that, really, might be more valuable to them than understanding that Smarter Balanced is grammatically incorrect. (Ugh, gag still.)
Before I list all the videos, let me share the best app that I’ve found for showing videos on my iPad (the only device I have in my classroom). Students are usually the best resource for tech questions, and one of my 8th graders showed me iTube. It allows me to download videos at home (since our internet blocks pretty much every website in existence), and then use it later without having to rely on wifi. I have playlists for History, English, and Inspirational Videos. Life. Saver.
Video #1: Tech N9ne- Fragile (Director’s Cut)
This song took on a life of its own in my class. I loved the sound, and the message that even if some people see you as “fragile,” maybe you are just creative and sensitive to what matters. I see kids like this in my classes all the time, and sometimes I am actually jealous of their ability to tap into their emotions so deeply. My students LOVED this video, and they all went home and downloaded the song. (Tech N9ne, contact me here to give me my cut of the royalties!) The begged me to play it every day during passing period. There is one bad word in there (at 2:12) but I just got really good at muting my speakers for that split second while the whole class groaned.
Video #2: Middle School Football Players Execute Life-Changing Play
This is such a sweet story about some “cool kids” who stood up for kid with special needs. I could tell that it really made my students think about how they treat other kids at school. The girls thought the football players were “OMG, so cute!” so they were basically enraptured. I’m not entirely sure, but I could have sworn I saw a couple boys wipe away a tear.
There was one kid (who has been a pain in the butt all year) who yelled out, “Ha, what a little b*$#^!” in the middle of the video. I almost lost it on him, but the ones who react like that are the ones who need to see this stuff the most. I think subconsciously he knows that he would never have thought to do something nice like that for anyone, and it made him feel bad.
Video #3: Caine’s Arcade
If you haven’t seen this short film yet, you will love it! Caine is adorable, and he lives in our area. The film is incredibly well done, and Caine’s perseverance, ingenuity, and passion are so inspiring. I think it’s so important to show my students examples of kids who are doing amazing things. They loved it, and they want to plan a field trip down to Caine’s Arcade. 🙂
Video #4: How Do YOU Define Yourself? By Lizzie Velasquez
Honestly, I felt like I had to work my way up to this video. But by this point in our “video journey” my students had started to pick up on what we were doing. Lizzie Velasquez is a phenomenal motivational speaker with a sparkling personality. She was once labeled “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” but she overcame merciless bullying with a kind and fighting spirit. Lizzie is such a good role model, and watching her video provided my students with the opportunity to practice compassion, understanding, and seeing past physical appearance. It’s great!
Video #5: Kid President–20 Things We Should Say More Often
This kid is just adorable. It’s undeniable! Most of my students had already seen this one, but they love him! And at the end, every student had to choose one positive thing to say (besides the scream!).
Video #6: Kid President–Pep Talk to Teachers and Students
They just couldn’t get enough of him, so we did another!
Video #7: Kid Snippets–Book Report
Okay, we kind of got on a silly streak, but these Kid Snippet videos are hilarious (and clean). You’d be surprised how much a little laugh break can increase the productivity in your classroom!
Bonus Video: Somethin’ Special (by me)
They’ve been asking me to sing for them all year, so I let them see one of my cheesy little cover videos that I like to make sometimes. I think it’s good for them to see adults being creative and doing things for fun. It was also good for them to see that I made some little mistakes in my song, but I didn’t let that stop me from having fun with it and sharing it with them. You don’t have to be perfect all the time!
Next time you have an extended day, or an intense lesson that warrants a rest in the middle, try one of these videos with your kiddos and see how it goes. The best thing is that they will inspire your students to become more resilient, more caring, and more creative. Watching them together fostered a really neat, connected attitude within my classroom as well. It’s a win-win-win!
My summer break has finally arrived and I’m looking forward to catching up on about a million blog posts! Since I failed to upload “teacher chic” posts for about six months, here are 15 looks for inspiration for next school year. A few are weekend outfits (clearly), and the rest are casual classroom looks (I don’t get all that fancy). I realized while writing this that I really only shop at about 5 stores, and that I get a lot of use out of the more expensive/quality items that I’ve invested in. I love browsing through other teachers’ work outfits, so here is my contribution to the teaching world. 🙂
(descriptions are under each photo)
chevron shirt: GStage (I think!)
necklace: World Market
jeans: Guess (my first Christmas gift from my husband, 5 years ago!)