favorite book foldable

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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:

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

#summarize

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This is my first year teaching English, and I have found that one really difficult skill to teach is summarizing.  My students nod and say that they understand, but when it comes down to it, they struggle (and come up with some crazy ideas, way out of left field!).

Well, Facebook recently implemented hashtags into its format (oh man, that is going to date this post for all eternity, isn’t it?).  I’m not much of a “hashtagger” myself, but one day I was trying to think of hashtags to tack on to a status update, and it was really hard!  As I came up with a few really lame words and phrases, however, I had an epiphany: I was really just identifying key words and summarizing my post.  I thought, I’ll bet my students do this on Twitter and Facebook all the time.  They’re probably way better at it than I am!

So I decided to design a lesson where they could use their hashtagging skills to identify key words and themes in literature.  Since I’m sure not all of my students are Twitter fiends, I began the lesson with this very informative video about hashtags by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake:

(Don’t worry, I ended the video right before Questlove walks in).

According to my pacing guide, we were supposed to read a story from our literature book called “Everybody is Different, but the Same Too.”  I created a worksheet to go with the story that incorporated hashtags (instead of writing down key words or phrases) to summarize each paragraph.

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#summarize     click here for pdf file

My English students really like to read out loud, so a different student read each paragraph, and we added hashtags after each one.  I modeled the first one, and the students caught on pretty quickly.  Their hashtags were much closer to actual summaries than other assignments had been where I just asked them to summarize.  We then connected their summaries to the overall theme of the story, and I’ll share that activity in a separate post.

Warning: I did kind of create a monster with the whole hashtag thing, and for the next few days, they added the word “hastag” to everything.  

“Hashtag-hi Mrs. Forbes!”

“Hashtag-can I please go to the bathroom?”

“Hashtag-what is the homework?”

“Hashtag-have a good weekend!”

As annoying as you might think hashtags are in Twitter-form, they’re much worse in spoken word!  But this ended up being a really fun way to break down a story, and the kids keep asking to do it again.  Using hashtags taps into their background knowledge and allows them to apply elements of their outside lives to school.  Plus, they gave me much more accurate summaries of the story than I had ever gotten before.  #winwin

happy national handwriting day! (jan 23)

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Happy (late) National Handwriting Day, everyone!  I have always loved anything to do with handwriting: keeping journals, writing notes in class, making lists, having pen pals, filling out forms, sending people birthday cards, you name it.  Even now, I keep track of my schedule in a planner that I take with me everywhere.  Sure, I have an iPad and an iPhone with brilliant apps that could organize everything for me–but I wouldn’t get to write everything down!

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Also, since 9th grade I have only used one kind of pen: black, fine point, Pentel RSVP pens.  Nothing else will do.  I’m very stingy with my pens, too.  I will watch you like a hawk until that pen is safely back in my pen pouch in my purse!

My husband recently bought me a Kindle Paperwhite to help me avoid the back and neck problems inflicted upon me by the 20-30 books I have to read each semester for my Masters program, but again, I need to write in the margins.  (I love the Kindle for pleasure reading, but when I am analyzing a text, I have to engage with it using an RSVP pen).

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You know what else is kind of strange about handwriting?  Mine is almost identical to my mom’s, and hers is almost identical to my grandma’s.  My best friend since 7th grade (Rochelle) and I also have incredibly similar writing.  Both of us have been confused when receiving Christmas cards from each other in the mail–Did this get sent back?  Did I have the wrong address?  Oh, ha ha, that’s not my writing after all!  Is handwriting hereditary, or do we copy what we see?

Anyway, I am always very excited for National Handwriting Day, and this year we celebrated it in my English class.  Sixth graders are never excited to hear the word “cursive,” but I opened their eyes to a whole new concept this year.  “You’re not in elementary school anymore,” I reminded them, “so now you can write however you want!  You can do loops on your y’s and g’s this week, and then hearts on top of your i’s next week, you can write in half cursive-half printing–the sky is the limit!”  I just wanted them to practice neat penmanship, and to have fun doing it.

We started off by writing the alphabet in whatever handwriting they liked best.  I encouraged them to develop their own signature style (no pun intended).  Then we wrote out some panagrams like,

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog  and

My grandfather picks up quartz and valuable onyx jewels.

(Panagrams are coherent sentences that include every letter of the alphabet).

Next, they practiced writing their signature, or autograph.  You would be shocked at how many of my 8th graders cannot write their names in cursive.  Like, no matter how many different ways I explained it, I still got their name written in printing.  It was nuts.  So with my 6th graders, I want to make sure that they practice writing their signature at least once a year.  If they get that MLB contract one day, they are going to need to know how to do this!

Students had the option to continue to observe National Handwriting Day by completing an extra credit assignment that was due the next day.  They could either make up their own panagram (it’s actually REALLY hard!), or hand-write a letter to someone on stationary.  The art of letter writing is pretty close to extinct, so I am doing my part to bribe students into reviving it.  Here is what one class brought back the next day:

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Really, they didn’t have to write the letter to me, but hey, they’re smart!  How can I not give you a bunch of extra credit if you hand-write all the reasons why I am amazing onto a cute card?  I also liked the homemade stationary (which they probably made ten minutes before the bell rang from their binder paper and a pen they found at the bottom of someone’s backpack, but whatever).

Side note: I have heard that many states are dropping cursive from their Common Core curriculum (California is keeping it, though).  This is a shame, because I have read in a few articles that the act of connecting one letter to the next requires the brain to think one step ahead, and makes writing in cursive a fundamentally different task from printing.  Experts also argue that cursive is useful to know for note-taking, although I would guess that most students will be typing their notes in the future anyway.

Still, I enjoy handwriting, and I love to read at beautiful script.  I am going to continue to celebrate National Handwriting Day every January 23rd, and I hope that you do too!  What other ideas do you have for NHD activities?

spelling bee word wall

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The school spelling bee is tomorrow!  I’ve trained my 6th graders well, and I’m certain that one of my students will win!  We started learning the words on the Scripps National Spelling Bee word list by creating signs with one spelling word and the definition.  Each student made a colorful sign with the word, its definition, and artwork that represented the word.  They taught each other how to spell the words, and practiced spelling their word in front of the class (“say, spell, say!”).  I needed something to block the morning sun from my 1st period class’s eyes anyway, so we made a Word Wall from all the spelling words.  Students try to incorporate the spelling words into their comments as much as possible (“mugwump” gets a lot of action), and even if their eyes are wandering every so often, at least they will probably rest on our colorful Word Wall eventually.  I can’t wait for the competition tomorrow! 🙂