LANGUAGE ARTS

TALKING TURKEY

GRADES: 5-9

"Talking Turkey" is a creative writing assignment that provides students with the opportunity to write from different points of view.

MATERIALS:

  • pen
  • paper
  • optional - word processor and/or Microsoft PowerPoint

METHOD:

  1. Prior to assigning this creative writing activity, you should first discuss with the class what point of view is, and make sure all students have a clear understanding of how to change view points on a given topic. Explain to the class that they will be writing a Thanksgiving story from a point of view other than their own.
  2. The Topic of the writing will be "what is Thanksgiving like from the _______ 's point view"
  3. Suggestions for possible points of view:
    • The turkey being cooked and served
    • The table being eaten on for dinner
    • The fork being used to serve the turkey
    • The light fixture above the dinner table
  4. Activity extensions incorporating technology would be to have the students make their stories into cartoons using PowerPoint or type stories in a word processor with graphics.
Submitted by,

ROCHELLE WAGGENSPACK
LAKE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
ST. AMANT, LA
wagger@apsb.org


A SHOEBOX OR (PAPER BAG) BIOGRAPHY

GRADES: K-2

I always begin the new year by sharing items from my “Shoebox Biography”.   After I model this for the first graders, I send home a description of this activity for my students to complete for their first homework assignment. Believe me, NOT ONE  of my first graders loses or forgets to bring this homework.

MATERIALS:

  • a paper bag or shoebox
  • personal items from home that will give the class more information about who they are and what they like to do.  Examples are photographs of family or pets, a sample of something they collect (stickers, baseball cards, coins,)
  • an original piece of artwork
  • cd or tape of favorite music
  • a copy of a favorite story
  • a small stuffed animal 

METHOD:

  1. The key is that each item has to be thought out, represent something about the presenting students, and has to be able to fit in the shoebox or paper bag.  A great way to get to know each other. 
  2. We have even done graphing activities about items brought.
  3. I suggest that students bring no more than 5 or 6 items.
 

Submitted by,

DAWN SMITH
BOWEN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
CINCINNATI, OH
dawnasmith@insightbb.com


OPENING DAY LETTER

GRADES: 3-12

Introduction: This is a very effective way to begin the year with any class. It can be sent home any time in the first month or so of school. It establishes a rapport with students as of the very first day of class, and it provides you with an insight into your students as well as a base writing sample from each student.

MATERIALS: 

  • a copy of your letter for each student in your class.

METHOD: 

  1. This is an idea I may actually have picked up on this web site a few years ago. Wherever I got it, it has worked terrifically well in all the classes I’ve used it. The concept is simple: write your students a letter and have each of them write you back.  
  2. The letter I write to them tells the students a little about myself, about what I did over the summer, what my hopes and concerns are for the coming year and ends with my best wishes for them to have successful year. I always include some mention of the books I’ve read over the summer and a hint about some of the specific topics and activities I have planned. I limit the letter to one page.
  3. It is important that the letter be specific to each group, not just one generic letter to all your groups. This allows you to address specific things of interest and importance to that grade level.  
  4. Once students have had a chance to read your letter, invite them to write you back. With very little direction, students will generally follow the format you had in your letter. If students are looking for some direction, suggest they follow the format of your letter. I have the students read my letter and answer back in the same lesson. 
  5. This exercise has always been enjoyed by my students. They’re fascinated with this little glimpse into the life of their teacher and have always responded well to the positive tone of the letter. Their letter back will give you a pretty authentic writing sample for each student.  You’ll find out quite a bit about your students in very short order, and you will begin the year on serious note without making it feel like big work. You may even want to begin a correspondence with your students (through a regular journal, for example) with this exercise.

    Submitted by,

    JACK FRASER
    WESTWOOD HIGH SCHOOL
    ST. LAZARE, QUEBEC, CANADA
    jfraser@lbpearson.ca


READING ENGLISH

GRADES: 4-12

Here is a great activity to share with your English students. It can lead to a discussion of phonics and spelling.

Cut and paste the following and distribute it to your students, asking them to read it immediately.

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipormetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.


WHO? WHAT? WHERE?

GRADES: 3-9

This is a large group activity that facilitates individual writing samples and then small group creative dramatic skills.

MATERIALS:

  • Chalkboard/Dry erase board
  • Chalk/Dry erase markers

METHOD: 

  1. On the board, write Who? What? Where? and divide into three columns.
  2. Have students randomly fill in the categories. Example:
    • WHO?: Molly, Simba & Nalla, Oprah, Cocker Spaniel                                                                    
    • WHAT?: roller skating, vacation, electrical shortage, tornado
    • WHERE?: my backyard, school, Boston, Hawaii
  3. These answers should not go together in the least. Students just randomly throw out ideas, you can fill in categories at the same time, or as they think of them.
  4. Assign a writing assignment. This should reflect grade level, I teach middle school and often keep it to 150-200 words. In this assignment, students should choose at least one example from each category. Example: Oprah, Roller Skating, and Hawaii.
  5. Student writes a story involving those elements.
  6. Students then break into teacher-assigned groups, and choose one of the stories as the group favorite.
  7. Student groups act out favorite story for the other groups in class.

This assignment works well on a variety of levels. You can do it as a quick day of academic fun, or you can make the dramatizations become official skits, with props, costumes, and a lot of humor. My kids love it and I enjoy their writing samples and creativity.

Submitted by,

SOMMER ECHTERLING
TAFT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
CINCINNATI, OH
sechterling@yahoo.com


POEMS BY YOU ABOUT YOU

GRADES 5-12

This is an excellent activity the first week of school. It helps to get students involved immediately in the curricula, get to know each other, and it gives the teacher some examples of student work to post for Back to School Night.

  • Hand out the two poems entitled I AM, (see below--feel free to print them out and reproduce them for your class).
  • Hand out the I AM MODEL, (see below); put a copy on an overhead projector, if available, for the entire class.
  • Using the model, create an original poem as a class, incorporating ideas from the students.
  • Assign I AM to the class.
  • Optional: Each student does an art project (collage, diorama, anything that shows WHO they are) to accompany the poem.
  • Students orally present their personal I AM poem to the class.

     

    I AM

I am a carefree girl who loves horses.
I wonder if there ever was a horse that could fly.
I hear the stomping of a hundred mustangs on the desert in Arabia.
I see a horse with golden wings soaring into the sunset.
I want to ride swiftly over a green meadow.
I am a carefree girl who loves horses.
I pretend to be an Olympic jumper.
I feel the sky pressing down on me as I ride along a sandy shore.
I touch the clouds on a winged horse.
I worry that I'll fall off and become paralyzed.
I cry when a colt dies.
I am a carefree girl who loves horses.
I understand that I will not be able to ride every day of my life.
I say, let all horses roam free.
I dream about the day when I have a horse of my own.
I try to be the best rider in the world.
I hope to ride all my life.
I am a carefree girl who loves horses.
--ELLY TATUM

 

I AM

I am a nutty guy who likes dolphins.
I wonder what I, and the world, will be like in the year 2000.
I hear silence pulsing in the middle of the night.
I see a dolphin flying up to the sky.
I want the adventure of life before it passes me by.
I am a nutty guy who likes dolphins.
I pretend that I'm the ruler of the world.
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I touch the sky, the stars, the moon, and all the planets as representatives of mankind.
I worry about the devastation of a nuclear holocaust.
I cry for all the death and poverty in the world
I am a nutty guy who likes dolphins.
I understand the frustration of mot being able to do something easily.
I say that we are all equal.
I dream of traveling to other points on the earth.
I try to reach out to poor and starving children.
I hope that mankind will be at peace and not die out.
I am a nutty guy who likes dolphins.
--SANDY MAAS

 

I AM--MODEL

FIRST STANZA
I am (two special characteristics you have)
I wonder (something you are actually curious about)
I hear (an imaginary sound)
I see (an imaginary sight)
I want (an actual desire)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

SECOND STANZA
I pretend (something you actually pretend to do)
I feel (a feeling about something imaginary)
I touch (an imaginary touch)
I worry (something that really bothers you)
I cry (something that makes you very sad)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

THIRD STANZA
I understand (something you know is true)
I say (something you believe in)
I dream (something you actually dream about)
I try (something you really make an effort about)
I hope (something you actually hope for)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

submitted by

STEVE JACOBSON
LA MESA JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
SANTA CLARITA, CA


BEGINNING OF THE YEAR AUTOBIOGRAPHY

GRADES: 2-8

Many teachers use the first few weeks of school for community-building and getting-to-know-you activities. To integrate language arts into this community-building theme, I begin my writing program by having the children write and publish their own autobiographies. The first year that I did this, however, a problem arose when I tried to find a suitable model of an autobiography to read to the class before they began their own writing. My solution--I wrote my own autobiography!

MATERIALS:

  • the implements with which your class generally writes and illustrates
  • your imagination and facts about yourself--your family, interests, hobbies, childhood, early schooling, etc.

METHOD:

  1. Follow the same writing procedures you ask of your children--writing, editing, having a peer conference with a colleague, revising, illustrating, and designing the cover.
  2. On the first day of school, talk to your class about autobiographies--the stories that people write about their own lives and that others read to find out about the author's life.
  3. Read your autobiography to the class as a way of introducing yourself.
  4. Kick-off your writing program by having the children begin to write their own autobiographies.

This book becomes a popular one to sign out and take home to read. By the time Open House arrives a few weeks into the school year, many children have read it at home and their parents already "know" me--and the interests that we share! There are personal benefits as well. Creating a book this way makes you aware of the feelings involved in the actual publishing experience and the risks involved in putting your work out for public scrutiny. In all my years of teaching writing to small children, I think this is the most valuable lesson I have learned about the writing process.

submitted by

CHRISTINE HUNEWELL
BRISTOL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
BRISTOL, NH
randchune@cyberportal.ne


THE EVILS OF BOOK REPORTS

GRADES 4-12

This is one of the most controversial lessons I'll ever write...but also one of the most important.

I never give book reports to my students. Never.

There are some basic premises to my position:

  • A MAJOR GOAL OF MOST TEACHERS IS TO GET STUDENTS TO ENJOY READING.
  • ALMOST EVERY TIME A BOOK IS ASSIGNED, THE STUDENTS ARE REQUIRED TO WRITE A REPORT
  • STUDENTS HATE BOOK REPORTS
  • STUDENTS ASSOCIATE BOOK REPORTS WITH READING
  • STUDENTS DO NOT VOLUNTARILY READ

This may sound simplistic...and it is. But it's also basic psychology--the students associate a negative experience (reports) with an action (reading books), and therefore, hate the action!

Think about it...how often, when you assign a book, do the students immediately inquire whether or not they have to do a report! And when they find out that a report IS required, how excited are they to now read?

So how do we get the students to read? Or, as many teachers may ask, how do we check up on whether or not they are reading? Here are a number of random ideas:

  • Require the students to keep a reading book with them at all times, as part of their supplies. They read the book during their free time. When a book is easily accessible, they will naturally read.
  • Assign genres of books as usual. However, instead of a report to check up on them, sit down and talk to the student, one-on-one. It's easy--you'll get all of the information you need, and you'll also develop a closer relationship with the student. This one-on-one only has to take a few minutes and can occur over a couple of weeks, during students' work time.
  • Participate in book clubs (i.e. Scholastic, Troll). The students are picking their own books, and paying for them, and therefore, are more apt to read them.
  • Start a classroom "card catalogue". After each student reads a book, he/she makes a card with a short summary for other students in the class to read. This is an easy way to check on the students reading!
  • If you MUST give a project, use a type of book "project"--anything but a "written report". This can be a diorama, book poster, book cover, etc.

I have found that my students continuously read. They are always purchasing book club books, and their parents often relate back to me that the students get upset because they don't have enough time to read (when I give them too much homework). Reading has become a pleasurable experience--not one associated with a dreaded "book report"!

submitted by

DR. SCOTT MANDEL
PACOIMA MIDDLE SCHOOL
LOS ANGELES, CA
mandel@pacificnet.net


LETTER WRITING PRACTICE

GRADES: 4-8

Get the kids writing early in the school year and welcome them each individually. Write a personal letter to your incoming students. This can set the stage for writers' workshop, as well as create a welcoming environment.

METHOD:

  • Write a personal letter to the students using the following friendly letter format:
    • Introductory Paragraph: Who I am, how long I've taught, and a little about my family and where I live.
    • Body Paragraph: Someof the things I did over the summer.
    • Second Body Paragraph: A few of the things we will be doing in class. Closing Paragraph: Welcome to the class and hopes for a good year together.
  • Give each child a typed (most students have trouble reading cursive) copy of your letter, with no written directions or nagging about letter format, or other writing conventions. Simply tell the students to write back to you in class.

NOTES:

  • This rough draft is not to be "graded" in the traditional sense. Keep it as a sample of each student's early in the year writing.
  • Last year when I did this for the first time, I was thrilled with the way most of the kids responded. They naturally followed the format modeled, and there was no need to harp about quality, or length. They wanted to start off the year putting their best writing forward, just as I wanted to invite them into our classroom community.
  • The project can also be adapted for anytime during the school year, i.e., after a vacation, feelings about the first couple months of school, etc.

    submitted by

    PATRICIA BRAUN
    ROOSEVELT MIDDLE SCHOOL
    RIVER FOREST, IL
    pbsed@kwom.com


SEPTEMBER WRITING ACTIVITY: BOTTLED NOTE

GRADES: 2-8

MATERIALS:

  • writing materials
  • an old bottle

METHOD:

  1. Explain to your students that you were walking on the beach this summer when you came across a bottle with a note in it. Show them the bottle and ask your students to think about the following questions:
  2. Who put the message in the bottle?
  3. Where did the bottle originate?
  4. What does the note say?
  5. How long was the bottle in the water?
  6. Have students share their ideas and write responses on the board or use an overhead. Then discuss the answers.
  7. Ask each student to write a paragraph or short story about the bottle and it's message. Encourage your students to use their imagination and/or their sense of humor.
  8. Finished stories can be displayed on a blue ocean bulletin board surrounding an island.

    submitted by

    SHIRLEY BAKALA
    DELTA SCHOOL DISTRICT
    DELTA, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
    saba@intergate.bc.ca


THE SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA CENTER: AN UNDER-UTILIZED RESOURCE

GRADES: K-12

Editor's note: One of the most valuable, and underused, resources in the school is the school "library", or "media center" as the more modern ones are now called. Often teachers are totally unfamiliar with the resources available to them on-site "assuming" that the library is out-dated with few relevant materials. This is not really a "lesson" per se, but an introduction to the "Media Center Concept" by one of the top Library Media Teachers in Los Angeles. Hopefully you can share this with others on your staff. SM

A school's Library Media Center is the teacher's dream for information resources, higher-level learning, technological advances, academic stimulation, andpleasurable reading pursuits. Yet, it is often the last place that a teacher may think of when planning his/her daily lessons or seeking new resources and ideas. The Library Media Center (LMC) can put new life into old lessons and motivate students if a teacher knows how to tap into its resources and incorporate it into the classroom curriculum.

The LMC is unique from other libraries. It is specifically designed to support the curriculum and needs of the school it is located at. Its materials, then, reflect the characteristics of the student population and faculty, including its strengths and weaknesses.

A Librarian, or Library Media Teacher (LMT) is always ready and willing to help out with classroom projects. You will find that they are open to new ideas and new methods of teaching. Remember, that in most cases, they are TEACHERS too! They especially would like to work as a team with their school's teachers. They are more than happy to collaborate on preparing new lessons and projects--helping teachers to create the project, inject new ideas, and devise the plan for executing the project. Any LMT worth their salary would also be willing to divide the work and responsibilities for teaching students. For instance, the classroom teacher would provide the lessons that give the background information and instructions required by the students. The LMT would give the lessons on how to find the information and use the resources needed, such as the Reader's Guide, the Social Issues Resources folders, or computer reference sources. They can also point out reference sources that no one may have thought of using. Of course, they are always available to help students individually, whether it's during class time, lunch time, or after school. An LMT is also willing to display the finished products. They could put the projects in a display case, post them on the walls, or display them on a table.

Here are some quick, everyday examples of the curricular help an LMT can provide:

Need a new method to teach that lesson that became old hat ten years ago? Try picking your LMT's brain. They probably have some new ideas worth looking into.

Need something to occupy your students during homeroom? Or an opening activity for class? Try a Sustained Silent Reading Time. Of course, your LMT could help you with reading materials and give you suggestions about how to implement it.

Lamenting over low reading scores? Ask your LMT to start a reading program for your students. Such a project is right up their alley. They can help set up an incentive program that will stimulate students to crack those books open and read--and enjoy it, too!

LMT's have connections with other libraries and librarians both in their school's neighborhood as well as specialty libraries that may fill unique needs. So go to them with your requests. Chances are that they may know just where to find what you're looking for. An LMT also keeps abreast of new curriculum standards, new technologies, and new resources in the community. So they can help with developing new curricula as well as new ways of motivating students--and they can be a great ally in the new technology age.

So take advantage of your Library Media Center and your Library Media Teacher. They have a lot to offer!

submitted by

CYNTHIA WONG
PACOIMA MIDDLE SCHOOL
LOS ANGELES, CA


GETTING YOUR STUDENTS PREPARED FOR THE S.A.T.: VERBAL VOCABULARY

GRADES 8-11

As much as we teach our students in Language Arts, as prepared as we feel our high schoolers are for college, it is unfortunate that their admission (and often grant eligibility) is often based solely on their score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Whereas the S.A.T. math section can be successfully completed by any student who passed 9th grade math with at least a "B", the same is not true for the Verbal section. For, you see, the S.A.T. Verbal section is based on vocabulary not used, or even recognized, by many high school English teachers!

Therefore, what can we do to enhance our students chances on the S.A.T., and subsequently, their chances for admission into a good college? A Spelling/Vocabulary program for 8th-11th graders will greatly help their S.A.T. knowledge and subsequent score.

The components of such a program are as follows:

  1. Get ahold of an S.A.T. preparation book. These regulary have a "Frequently Used Words on the S.A.T." section.
  2. Use these words as your spelling/vocabulary list (10-20 words a week).
  3. Have the students write these words on flashcards--word on one side, definition on the reverse.
  4. Answer their expected hesitation on making flash cards the following ways:
    • Point out that they will learn the material more efficiently (give examples).
    • More importantly, flash cards can be saved for a couple of years, and then brought out to use as a review the month before they take the actual S.A.T.!
  5. As extra motivation, each week give a Spelling/Vocabulary test.

Schools that have predetermined vocabulary lists can easily divide the words up among the appropriate grades so as to not duplicate efforts. The end result: the students S.A.T. verbal scores will dramatically rise in your school, as the students become more prepared than if they had studied on their own!

submitted by

DR. SCOTT MANDEL
PACOIMA MIDDLE SCHOOL
LOS ANGELES, CA
mandel@pacificnet.net

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