Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Gaming" Using PowerPoint


As I work, think, create and collaborate through the 2015 #CLMOOC,  I was reminded of the Interactive Mystery PowerPoint ‘games’ that my students created many years ago (See below). You have probably downloaded a popular game using Action Buttons in PPT and may not have even known it- Jeopardy! 
Since this week was about gaming, I wondered how PowerPoint might be used as a game and hopefully, a game for learning. I have included in this post links to a Google Folder with a couple examples of how an Interactive PPT might be used in the classroom. 

First, simply learning how to set up a PowerPoint (PPT)  game using Hot buttons is a valuable tool/skill for many purposes.  Everything from stories to learning centers can be created using the Hot Buttons on PPT.  With all the new-fangled tech tools out there- PowerPoint is often forgotten or disregarded, yet many teachers do not have Internet connection or they have limited access to computers- so PPT is a viable alternative for tech projects and learning centers that do not require the Internet and depending on use, may only require a limited number of computers to implement.

So what is a hot button? It is a clickable picture or icon that can lead you to any slide you want students to go to.  To find the hot buttons- open a PPT- click on the Insert tab- then click on shapes and scroll all the way down to the bottom- you will see “Action Buttons” .


The Action buttons include going forward or backward to any slide, a blank button where you can insert your own text or image/icon, an action button that allows for a link to a movie, a document; an “I” button for information you want to provide and so on.  To change the color of the Action Button, right click and go to format shape.  Cited:

 Click on the button you want, you can size it and then choose what slide you want it to link to- the best way to do this in my opinion is to create all your slides FIRST- then when it’s time to link the Action or Hot button- right click on the button and click on “Edit Hyperlink”.  At “Hyperlink to” change the drop-down menu item to “slide” and you can actually SEE the slide you want to connect to.  Much easier!  (You might only see “hyperlink” when you right click. If so, click on it- make sure it indicates “Place in this Document” on the left side of the window that opens- then under “Slide titles”  you can click on each one to see it- selecting the one you want to link to.)


Another tip is to go to Transitions tab- and over on the far right- be sure you remove the check mark from “Advance Slide- On Mouse Click”. You want ONLY the buttons to move the slides. If you fail to remove the check mark you can click anywhere and the slides will advance; the buttons become useless. 

So how can PPT be used to set up a gaming type learning experience?

Centers: You can create a center for learning that allows students to click on a particular number that you assign (differentiating) or have students work through sequentially. The PPT center is a great tool for those early finishers in class. Math practice, creative writing prompts, the sky’s the limit as to what you direct students to do using this tool as a learning center-  Best of all, you only need one or two computers to offer this opportunity to students. 

Click Here for a link to my TPT store where I offer two centers- one on informational reading and the other for Literary reading. There are up to 24 activities offered for those early finishers, differentiation, etc.

Creative Writing: Students can create choose your own adventures or any type of story that is more interactive in nature. Included in the Google Folder is a Choose Your Own Adventure Story that I began to give you an idea for how one might be set-up. Here is a link to my TPT store where I have a Mystery E-book PowerPoint student sample, directions for how to create the E-books (although you really don’t need that once you’ve read this!) and a class vote sheet for the E-books so everyone gets to view their peers’ creations.

Interactive Learning:  Get them out of their seats! If you have a SMART or Promethean Active board you can create modules that allow students to come to the board and make their choices.  You can also save the module to your website for student access individually or in small groups/partners.  Included in the Google Folder is the beginning of an Active/Passive Game for students to put their knowledge to the test.

You know your content and what you want students to learn! Using PPT and the Action buttons is a great way to give students variety in their learning experiences.  But don’t stop at creating them yourself, allow students to learn about PPT – a great way for them to demonstrate their learning by creating a game or activity that showcases what they know or they can create a fun interactive story which takes quite a bit of critical thinking to produce.  Whatever the idea, PPT and the Action Buttons are versatile and provide an accessible option for learning in the classroom. 

Here’s a fun PPT Game created by Susan Watson where participants created their own vocabulary words to describe an emotion. 

Do you use PPT Action Buttons? How? Share ways you've set up PPT for gaming or interactive learning experiences for your students or how your students have used this versatile tool! 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Genius Hour- Where Passion and Standards Meet

This work incorporated the following Common Core Standards: 
RI 8.4, RI 8.7, RI 8.10, W8.2, W8.4, W8.6, W8.7, W8.9, SL8.4, SL8.5

Like everything I try in my classroom- I usually try it small-scale to see how it goes and build from there. The goals I had for trying out Genius Hour included a desire for student-led learning, making sure the CCS (Common Core Standards) were being addressed, and doing something for our community- thus the passion project was born.
Student goals included the following:
·         Select and research a local non-profit/charity- they had to find out about the charity and the issue with which the charity is involved. For example- Northern KY Hates Heroin- the non-profit and the issue of Heroin abuse in Kentucky.
·         Create a speech with a visual – The speech had to explain the non-profit and the health/societal issue as well as their service learning plan.
·         Proper citations for a minimum of two sources/1 visual had to be included.
·         Practice presentation skills and the integration of a visual
·         Present the speech
·         Blog about your process and progress.  (We used Kidblog)

My goal was to have classes vote for the service learning project they wanted to do; however, snow days and administrative restrictions made it impossible for us to pursue the projects we wanted to do. What we decided to do instead was to create informational mini-webpages about the issue and non-profit and we used HSTRY to do that. Our goal would be to tweet and share the links to these presentations to share what we learned and to possibly assist these non-profits in getting more support.

I’ll present a pictorial view of our process below as well as some of the student blog posts and HSTRY links to their projects- but I did learn some things along the way myself.

  1.  Start early and get approval for whatever you THINK kids might want to do ( no easy task when my students planned everything from a dance, to a car wash to a penny war). But I’m hoping that if I put in for at least 2 fund-raising events for charitable purposes and leave it open with explanation, it will be approved in advance.
  2.  As noted above, some projects were… well, a bit much. Putting restrictions on what students could or could not propose for their service learning plan probably would have eased some of my stress.

What surprised me? I thought since I was putting parameters around their project- it had to be a local non-profit or charity- that students wouldn’t be motivated, but I was wrong. The passion and work they put in equaled any project we’d done all year and in some cases, surpassed it. I saw students crying during their presentation about Alzheimer’s only to reveal their grandpa had it. I never would’ve known otherwise. Another student- her mother had diabetes and suffered from it terribly- she was so passionate she convinced the whole class, hands down, to support her project plan. Yet another young lady shared within her speech presentation for Northern KY Hates Heroin, how a family member had died from a Heroin overdose- none of us knew.

 Consistently, students would call me over to tell me over and over facts they learned preceded by “I didn’t know that….”  They worked before and after state testing when our school was one of the last in KY to be released. When their project plans were shot down by admin. I thought- Great, now what? There’s no way they’ll want to work on their HSTRY project this late in the game- but, again, I was very wrong. They spent hours in class not just creating but sharing their projects with one another.

In the end, we created our HSTRY timelines to share to the world but we also gathered items for Operation Christmas Child and canned food for our school district’s food pantry. One hundred and thirty  eighth graders were interacting with the world, sharing what they learned, and helping others all at the same time- most importantly, they became much more aware of the issues our state faces and grew closer as a class when they learned that many of their peers had family members who suffered from such issues as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even addiction to drugs/heroin.

Students had to create a project plan before they were permitted to research or begin their speech. 

Below- Student Speech Presentations- just a small sampling of the non-profits students chose to learn about and to share. 

          Below- Some Blog posts ( as students created their speeches and following speech presentations: 

(If you click on the image- it will open to a  larger size) 

Below are some of our HSTRY project Timelines: 

I should note that you will likely have to create an account with HSTRY to view these- it is free to join. However 
below are snapshots from two different student project pages done on HSTRY

You can find the student  project 
plan and my HSTRY rubric HERE. 

What are your students passionate about? Give them set time to explore that passion and you’ll be amazed at what you learn about them. Whether it’s a project that involves something they love or one that involves service learning (or both), Genius Hour/Passion Projects can incorporate the CCS, motivate students and can make learning a collaborative rich experience. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Investigating Self: Text Based, Project Based Narrative Writing Projects

I have been striving to find narrative writing projects that would take students beyond the rote ‘write to a prompt’ thing.  I also am painfully aware that whatever project we do, I still have to make sure students can write narratives for the state test on-demand portion of the assessment. So I began diving into project based learning sites looking for ideas and strategies while also working through a Deeper Learning MOOC and a Learning Differences MOOC, gaining new insights and resources concerning student interest, motivation and student centered learning.  Combine all this with several snow days in a row, and I began to put together a couple Narrative based projects. I believe that both projects will generate student interest because… well… it’s about them. When it’s personal, students often have inherent interest.

 Both projects also are text- based with multiple non-fiction readings that students would use as research and as reference as they write. One project asks students to write an essay and the other a letter, but both will hopefully produce reflective writing using narrative techniques.
Like any narrative unit, the key to success will be an intensive introduction to narrative and related techniques- looking at multiple mentor texts. I also plan to do some journal writing to get the mental juices flowing as we practice narrative technique. Ultimately, I want students to incorporate narrative technique in the below writings.

One assignment I want to incorporate first, is the “Letter to Your Younger Self”. I first stumbled on this when I came across an article about the idea (see resources below).  The article was not meant for teaching or students but it got me thinking: Instead of the all-too boring “narrate a time when you learned a lesson, or made a mistake and learned from it” students instead could write to their younger selves to uncover these ideas. If nothing else, it might provide seeds for future writing ideas.  I also liked the fact that students would be diving into nonfiction in the midst of our narrative unit. While it isn’t completely a project based lesson, it does have many components, as noted above, that I find important.

 A Letter to My Younger Self:

Essential Question: If you could go back in time, what would you do over? What would you change? What would you keep the same?

Brainstorm:  (The below brainstorm would be done in 1-2 days. The journal prompts would come after they do the brainstorming. Take a day for mistakes, and a day for achievements- These journal breaks will provide narrative description/techniques within their letter)

  • What do you love about yourself and what do you hate about yourself? Why?
  • Mistakes you‘ve made- what did you learn? What do you wish you‘d done differently?

                Journal- Take one big mistake that really sticks with you. Describe specifically what happened, thoughts and feelings, and reflect on why this was a mistake and what you learned.
  • Achievements you’ve had. Why were they achievements? Your thoughts and feelings on them?

                Journal- Think of one achievement that sticks with you. Describe specifically what this achievement was, how you made this achievement and your thoughts and feelings about it. What did you learn after you achieved this?
  • What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier in life?


  (I really like this article because it uses science to explain the importance of writing and reflection.)
Dear Me- (website is for sale the of the book but offers excerpts for reading)

Write: Write a letter to your younger self- express regrets as well as what you are happy with. Tell yourself what you wish for them; give your younger self advice.

Extension: Tech Integration
Write a letter to your future self

Birth Order and Your Personality:

The second lesson I developed is more in-depth. It has to do with a person’s birth order and how it determines our personality. This project is designed to submerge students in nonfiction readings about birth order and personality to produce an essay that reflects on this idea in their own lives.

Essential Question: Do you think that the order in which you were born affects your personality?

4 Corners
Have students go to each corner according to the following:
If you are an only child
If you are first born
If you are the youngest child
If you are a middle child
(Starting with this progression will help the ‘only child’ differentiate from being first born.)

Brainstorm:  Show Birth order photo above to get thoughts going.
Thinking about your birth order and your life thus far, how do you think your birth order affects your life? How has it molded who you are as a person? How has it affected your relationships with others?

-          Talk to those in the same birth order as you and discuss blessings and issues.
-          Talk to those in an opposite birth order as you and compare contrast:
o   Your personality traits
o   Blessings and issues

Research and readings:

Psychology Today (higher order reading) 

From the readings: Make a T-Chart- One side- parts that you believe  are true about yourself and the other side- parts you believe are untrue for you. 

You might add additional collaboration time for those in the same birth order to compare notes/discuss.

Survey: Create a survey on Google Docs- Create a new spreadsheet- set it up according to picture shown. You must list a minimum of five traits for your birth order.  Survey at least 5 people- parent(s) or guardians, siblings, friends, teachers, pastor, etc. Ask them to rate you on a scale of 1-5/ 5 most like you and 1 not like you at all/ for each trait noted for your birth order.  Choose 2 people you surveyed and ask them for reasons for their ranking for at least two (2) traits.

Journal- Discuss the results of your survey. Report results for at least two (2) people you surveyed.  Do you agree with their ranking/reasons for each trait? Why or why not? What surprised you? Why? If nothing about the results surprised you, why? Did the results support the research on birth order and personality? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is so? 

Some Fun Quizzes to Take:

Webmd (shows correct answer immediately after student answers.)
Parents Magazine (This quiz tells you what birth order you are, determined by how you answer each question. And if it is wrong their claim is –‘something made you this way so listen up!’ Only one question that would be beyond students- ‘you and your spouse are going to see a movie….’ But I think they could take this quiz nonetheless. Lengthy explanation follows after 10 questions are answered. Some ad popups for the magazine occur during quiz)

Write: Write a reflective essay about your birth order, your personality and how you get along with others/relationships – What is true and not true from the research? Why do you think that is so? Provide specific examples from your life and use at least two (2) readings as evidence.

A related project I came across – “The Two Sides of Myself” might make a nice extension to the Birth Order Project. You can find it here: “Two Sides of Myself”-    (While it is an art project,  students could write an essay about their two sides of self or write a reflective piece explaining the art work;  and/or you can work with the art teacher in a collaborative project!)

My goal was to include nonfiction and research with narrative writing in a project based environment. I also wanted the projects to be interesting and to seem different from the traditional stand-alone prompts they are used to getting (and will never write again outside of MS/HS), and I wanted them to do some inquiry and deeper learning.  Both projects allow them to take a deeper look inside themselves and will likely provide some lively discussion.

How are you making Narrative more project based? Please share! 

Photos from Creative Commons-

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Current Events as Springboard for Argument

Lately I have been gathering editorials and articles that relate to current events in order to expose my students to real world writing exemplars.
As teachers we struggle to find good writing examples to use as models in the classroom and we often come across... well... mostly substandard student written arguments about gum in school or some plea from a twelve year old to help save the dolphins. While these 'models'  can be good starting points ( I use them as non-examples for my students- what a good argument isn't), students don't often get to see that REAL argumentative writing happens every day for a variety of purposes and audiences. 
The best thing a teacher can do is pay attention to current events and then start digging for articles and editorials connected to these issues. Let students see that real people write about real issues every day. 
In this post, I will share some current events articles/videos/cartoons that I have found with teaching points that you can use in the classroom. 

The Measles

The vaccination/anti-vaccination debate has been waging and it has real implications for us all. 
In this blog post by Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, he declares that what we ignore or disbelieve does not make it untrue or impossible. It is a higher level reading for many middle school students, but his message overall is clear. So is his tone. This is a great piece to use for the identification of tone. Have students highlight portions of the text that clearly indicate the writer's attitude. The fact that the writer is an author and astrophysics professor lends him ethos and his use of logic to explain- logos. Both rhetorical appeals can be discussed using this post. Other aspects that students might learn from this post include the use of anecdote to start the argument and how he ties it in again later in the piece for impact. And of course, simply identifying the writer's claim can be a great starting point for all students. 
Here is  a great 5 minute Video from CNN exploring the debate of vaccination- both sides are presented- one from a parent's POV against the vaccine and one from a doctor's point of view. It is a very understandable video overall to explore both sides of the issue and the doctor offers a nice counter-argument in respect to the mother's point of view. 
This Article from offers some nice counterarguments to the biggest issues as to why parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. 
Editorial Cartoons are also popping up (no pun intended) concerning the Measles Vaccine Debate and they offer a chance to explore an artist's tone/message. This editorial cartoon offers the chance to discuss if Disneyland is getting a bad rap in all this since reportedly the outbreak began there. And if you want to jaunt a bit further into the political arena,  This Editorial/Cartoon has strong tone, denouncing both Christie and Paul in their Measles vaccination opinions. 

Remember, ELA teachers, this topic is a nice co-teaching prospect for both Science and ELA (and even World History) teachers to get involved in a research/writing opportunity! 

Snow Days 

Ah, glorious snow days! Students and teachers alike long for them. But if you experienced a VERY long May last year due to an exorbitant number of snow days, you understand that everything has its limits. Indeed many school systems have also recognized this issue and have derived avenues in which to remedy the situation. From this issue, many editorials have been written- from angry parents demanding less snow days and demands to "quit wussifying" our kids to those simply exploring both sides of the "snow virtual learning day"- the online answer to not being in school. 
This article provides both sides of the virtual learning debate and is a great springboard for students to use as a text based prompt/debate source. The article clearly lays out the argument for and against virtual learning days, providing video and reading for each side. Besides looking at both sides to prepare for a debate or to use as a springboard for a student's own argument on the topic, the title is clever and the writer's bias slips out as he starts the "Arguments against" side of the article and again in his concluding statements. 
Another article exploring  virtual learning day options is likely very challenging for middle school and more appropriate for high school due to its language- but tone is rampant throughout the piece and a great model for the various ways a writer might imply his/her attitude (quotation marks around words, for example) The ending to this piece- use of short punchy sentences- is very effective and a great opportunity to discuss use of sentence length for impact. 
From this simple topic you can find a plethora of articles and editorials surrounding the issue like 
This one- clearly a vote for virtual learning days (although it does present a bit of the "other side" of the issue too.) And even your visual students can be addressed through editorial cartoons such as this one and This Cartoon showing the implications of a snow day and that dreaded make-up day. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that an entire article/editorial does not always have to be used in class. If you are teaching anecdote- use that portion as a model, etc. It is also important to keep in mind that video and editorial cartoons can supplement a student's understanding and make the overall topic more interesting within the classroom setting. 

Finally, another great place to find argument and counter-argument is in the comments section of a blog or article. If you can find those that are 'fit for school use' you can snapshot them to use for discussion. Is the person's argument sound? Are they really arguing in the true sense of the word (using fact/evidence to support their point of view) or are they just quarreling? Do they set up their argument trying to establish their ethos? Do they provide logos in support?  Here is just one sampling of a discussion in the comments section about video games and if exposure to these games causes youth to become violent: 

Use of Ethos- writer sets up argument with "As a teacher...." 

In the first comment near the end, the writer sets up ethos "As an Avid video game player...." and the bottom comment is a clear example of quarrelsome vs a sound argument.

Be on the lookout for all kinds of argument in our every day lives- whether current event editorials, articles that offer both sides of an issue, videos, editorial cartoons or even the comments section of a blog post or article, you can find many real world examples to use in the classroom. 

All photos from Creative Commons use on 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Teaching Mood- Using Art /Teaching Short Constructed Response

Bulletin Board of Finished Humumet Projects 

When teaching mood, the first step in my 8 grade classroom is of course, discussing what mood is and  how it differs from tone. Typically I storm in at the start of class and start demanding in an irritated tone that they get out their books, some paper and that they need to get busy. I try to act extremely grumpy and irritated. I don’t let it go long before I stop and smile and ask two questions.
  1.        What attitude did I have?  (answers range from grumpy to mean to aggravated and others that will go unmentioned ;)
  2.          How did it make you feel? (nervous, upset, angry)

I tell students that my attitude was expressed partly through what I had to say- my tone. How I made them feel was mood. They really seem to get that.

We begin identifying mood with supporting detail using art work. Students examine works of art in small groups, identify the mood and select images/color, etc. from the art work as support. We practice writing paragraphs that use the A.C.E. (Answer/Cite/Explain) or P.E.E. (Point/Example/Explain) method.  This is an interesting and less threatening method to begin identifying mood with supporting ideas, and students seem to enjoy it. I was very pleased with the discussion that occurred as they debated the mood and how the art work supported that mood. 

Examples of Student Response for Mood from Paintings (Using ACE/PEE paragraph method for SCR)

The mood of the painting, The Boating Party, is lighthearted. There are cheery colors, like the baby’s pink clothes and the yellow boat. The mom has a loving, calm look on her face, so you know she’s not unhappy or anything. Cheerful colors and loving expressions give it a lighthearted feel.

The mood of the painting, House by the Railroad, is foreboding. The dark, blue colors make it seem suspenseful. They give off a feeling that something bad happened and that there is a dark feeling in the air. The shadows give off an eerie feeling, which is foreboding.

The mood of The Boating Part is light hearted. I know this because the mom is smiling, the baby is calm and not crying, and the boat ride itself appears to be peaceful. The painting itself is also brightly colored, which suggests a happier mood. This is how I know the painting portrays a light hearted mood. 

Next we looked at various short excerpts  from many YA novels and other sources.  The Raven Boys | Maggie Stiefvater is a great book with many descriptive passages that we used to decipher mood both in small groups and as a class.


We start by reading (and re-reading) and deciding if the mood is negative or positive and then we select the words/phrases that make it so. Finally, students choose a mood word and they continue practice in writing a short constructed response using the A.C.E. or P.E.E. method.

 The biggest issue with finding supporting detail is that after underlining or highlighting all the words/phrases that help to create the identified mood, students sometimes chose the weaker examples as support. When writing a short constructed response, students have a very limited number of lines in which to answer. They needed to choose the strongest examples and I particularly wanted them to be sure to choose the figurative language, identifying it as such, since the writer chose that simile or metaphor to specifically help  create the mood.

 In practicing to choose the strongest examples of word/phrases that help to create the mood, students created  Humumet (hew-mew-met). You can see what Humumet is and where it originated HERE.  (See "Intro" Link)You can also see the blog post that inspired this idea HERE, although tone was the objective in that lesson. (There are several more ideas on this blog post that can be incorporated to  teach either tone or mood,  including the use of  Google Forms to collect student responses). 

In creating Humumet, students had to select the strongest words/phrases that created the mood, boldly boxing those words in.  (We did this on several shorter passages before beginning this 

Next,  using colored pencils, they had to create art work that also depicted the mood. Some choose to depict the mood symbolically and others created the scene the passage described. Students had to defend their art work in a paragraph or more, explaining why/how their image supported the mood of the passage.  In creating Humumet, the art work should not completely cover over/block out the words of the passage and those words/phrases boldly boxed, should remain untouched inside the box. 

Examples of how Key words/phrases are boxed in. 

The artwork should cover the entire page and colored pencils work best since it allows for the picture without obliterating the text.  The idea is that with the picture/coloring and the boxed words- together one can interpret the mood of the passage. 

The above are using The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak

This image used an excerpt from The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Finally, students were put to the ‘test’ and they analyzed text on their own to determine mood with supporting detail from the passage. You can see a couple examples below. I was very pleased that students used key academic vocabulary in their answers and this was a direct result of using that vocabulary from the art work analysis at the beginning to the Humumet projects and the group practice of shorter excerpts. It took approximately two days to complete one Humumet. 

Overall the Humumet project and previous use of artwork allowed those students with weak verbal learning style to see another pathway into the idea of mood and how to identify it. I made sure to reinforce the key academic vocabulary throughout (connotation, figurative language, negative/positive, etc.) and it paid off when it came time to write short constructed response answers.

Bulletin Board Closeups 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fact or Faked: Using "Informational Text" as a Springboard for Research

Recently I came across a post on my Facebook page that declared that all Greek Mythology had been created out of thin air by a group of historians who wanted to advance their careers. They claimed to have created everything from documents to archaeological finds to the Illiad.   Now deep down I knew it wasn’t true (and so did the person who posted it) but the article seemed so matter-of-fact- …. So Real. 

I knew that the source, The Onion, was a satirical publication, but wondered, what about those who don’t know this? Time after time we see posts on Facebook that are simply untrue, yet people post them believing they are. Why? Because they do not search out the truth- instead they blindly post what they see,  accepting it for the truth because it is in print. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen posts that poor Johnny Depp has died.)

So are  students ready as everyday civilians to face the onslaught of fake material and scams out there? We want them to be college and career ready, but what about being ready for everyday life? What will happen when they open their email and they see they have ‘won the lottery in Zambia’? All they have to do is respond and send their personal information. Or what if they see a post on Facebook from Kroger claiming they can get a free $200 gift card just for saying thanks and re-posting? Will they know these communications are fake? Possibly a crafty scam to get their personal information?

Common Core Standards W7-9 direct students to perform short research projects, gather relevant information from digital sources and draw evidence from informational texts for analysis and research;  and CCS RI 10 directs teachers to provide a variety of informational texts.   The aforementioned types of communications are perfect for both.  Below, I have chosen just a few informational 'documents' that can be used to provide students an opportunity to research and do some critical thinking to find out if they are fact or faked.

The essential question: How do we know if the document/source is true or real? 
The Task: How do you search the information provided to find out? 

The Article

Questions for Students: 
  • How can we tell if this article is true?
  • What aspects of the article make it seem true and what aspects seem untrue, if any?

  • Research the origins of Greek Culture and the Illiad
  •  Can you find anything dated before 1971? (Why is that date important? – students should note that the article states that the culture was manufactured at that time- so anything dating before that would put that statement into question)
  • Research the purpose of The Onion –( scrolling to the bottom of the home page- FAQ- “Editorial” section reveals the site is satirical).
  • What is a satire? What does this reveal about the content of the article?
  • Students might also just search for what The Onion publication is in a Google Search.

Fake Kroger Facebook Post:

Questions for Students: 
  • How do we know if this offer is true or not?
  • Look at the information provided from the post and the website- are there any aspects of it that seem legitimate and any that do not?
  • How many people have shared this post? Does that make it real/true?
  • What can we search in order to find out if the post is true? 

The Email:  

(This below, like so many similar emails, arrived in my spam folder the other day)

Subject Line of Email:   From: Mr.Kenneth Egodi,(Funds Operational Head Director)
Email Address:

From: Mr.Keneth Egodi,(Funds Operational Head Director)
Nigerian Deposit Insurance Coperation (NDIC)
Mamman Kontagora House 23A, Marina,
Lagos Nigeria.

ATTN: Sir/Madam.

I am Mr.Keneth Egodi,Funds Operational Head Director,I monitor offices and control the affairs of all banks and financial  institutions in Nigerian unders the auspices of the NDIC. I am the final signatory to all foreign transfers of huge funds moving within banks both the local and international levels in line to foreign contracts settlement.

I have before me the list of foreign contract payment files, which are due to be transferred to their nominated accounts. Meanwhile, we identified some of these accounts to be ghost accounts, unclaimed deposits and over invoiced sum etc. I wish to have a deal with you as regards to the unpaid fund.
 I have a file before me and hope the data's are correct and un- tampered. As it is my duty to recommend the transfer of these surplus fund to the Federal Government Treasury and Reserve Accounts as unclaimed deposit. I have the opportunity to write you based on the instruction I received two days ago from the senate committee on contract payment/foreign debts to submit the list of payment reports, expenditures and audited  reports of revenues. Among several others, I have decided to remit the total sum of USD 5.525m following the idea that we  have a deal/agreement and I am going to perfact the paperwork legally.


1.You will have to provide foreign account where the funds will be transferred believing that I can trust you.
2.This deal must be kept secret forever, and all correspondence will be strictly by private email /telephone for security  purposes.

If you AGREE with my Conditions, contact me directly through this email address;( l will advise you on the next line of action and immediately the funds transfer will commence without further delay as I would proceed to fix your name on the payment schedule instantly within the next 5 working days.

Mr.Keneth Egodi,
Funds Operational Head Director, NDIC.

Questions for Students: 
  • How do we know if this is true or not?
  • What aspects of the email seem true and what aspects do not?  (It might be important to point out spelling and grammar as a possible signifier that the email is not truly authentic. While you can’t rely on that alone- it is often the case that these types of emails have spelling and grammar issues and that a professional would be careful to eliminate such errors).
  • Are there any aspects of the information in the heading that seems official and/or legitimate? (Both before and after searching heading information)
  • What information in this email is potentially alarming? (Providing account info, keeping it a secret, etc.)
  • What can we research to find out if this email is authentic?  (Most importantly the contact information in the heading of the email would be important to search)
  • Is there a reason this email went to the Spam/Junk mail folder? Does it automatically make it untrue because it was sent there? (and the answer is no- I have received items in my Junk folder many times that went there erroneously).
  • Students might research the email address

Note: I left all misspellings in the original email.
I purposely altered the spelling of the email address and sender’s name

The next time you see that fake email or a post that is ridiculously untrue- snag it and use it in the classroom. Students can work in small investigative teams to research and find out if that piece of informational text is fact or faked! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Teaching Dialogue and the Creation of Scenes

L.8.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
L.8.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

L.8.3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.

In my 8 grade writing class, students learn the proper punctuation of dialogue, but I want them to go beyond that; I want them to understand the use of dialogue and how to create valuable dialogue in their own writing. I also want them to understand that writing a story completely in dialogue has its limitations and usually for students, leaves out important sensory information for the reader.  So one of the most valuable lessons I teach my students is how to create scenes.

Before we get to scenes,  we examine what dialogue can reveal in a story. Students take notes that discuss how dialogue can:
  • 1.      Reveal character (their personality, their motivations, their emotional state, even their education level,  among other things.)
  • 2.      Move the story along- I’ll illustrate in a moment.
  • 3.      Can reveal setting- where the characters are, where they were, where they were going, etc.

 Two specific CCS are targeted as we move forward to examine dialogue in mentor texts and excerpts and its  importance in writing-

RL.8.1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RL.8.3. Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

I use this simple example to show what dialogue can do for a story:   “Thank you so much for holding the door for me! Second floor please. ” The dialogue reveals where the characters are and that the character is at least a polite person at first glance. I ask students which is more direct and to the point- the above dialogue or this:
Susan ran toward the closing elevator as the door was closing. A hand jutted out a the last moment ad stopped  the door from closing. She dashed in and moved to the corner thanking the man for holding the elevator for her. She then let him know which floor she needed, asking him to push the second floor button.
The actual dialogue is more direct and to the point- moving the story along,  it reveals location and something about the character without needless description that overall, is not important to the story.

We look at other dialogue examples and have a class discussion about what each reveals about the character, setting or how it moves the story along. Here are a few examples of what I use for this purpose:
  • ·         “Get outta my way, ya dumb sevvie!  I’m gonna be late for algebra!” (In this example we also discuss slang and how we talk versus proper writing. I emphasize that it’s OK to write dialogue the way you want your character to ‘talk’.)
  • ·         “Jason, this is the fourth time you’ve missed a key free throw.  Get back out there and practice until you make ten in a row.  No excuses.”
  • ·         The man took off his dark, stained hat and stood with a curious humility in front of the screen. “Could you see your way to sell us a loaf of bread, ma’am?”
Mae said, “This ain’t a grocery store. We got bread to make san’widges.”
“I know, ma’am.” His humility was insistent. “We need bread and there ain’t 
nothin’ for quite a piece, they say.”
“‘F we sell bread we gonna run out.” Mae’s tone was faltering.
“We’re hungry,” the man said.
“Whyn’t you buy a san’widge? We got nice san’widges, hamburgs.”
“We’d sure admire to do that, ma’am. But we can’t. We got to make a dime do all of us.” And he said embarrassedly, “We ain’t got but a little.”
(From The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 15)

I use excerpts from Killing Mr. Griffin and Cirque Du Freak as well. Students enjoy reading excerpts from these young adult novels- often reading it themselves- and we notice what the dialogue reveals about the characters in particular in these excerpts.

From there we move on to discuss formation of scenes, that dialogue is not often used alone in writing. A scene includes more than just what’s said and a speaker tag. Description is used and combined with dialogue, we create scenes.
Here’s our formula:
Dialogue +Description = a scene.  

And we discuss how this is another form of “show don’t tell”.  We re-examine the above excerpts and discuss what is being shown beyond the words. What is described/included? Often scenes include facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice and movement or further clues to understand the story.

Students are asked to highlight examples of each in various excerpts and then we try our hand at creating scenes. A great story I found online “They’re Made  Out of Meat” by Terry Bisson (Entire Story Here) is told entirely in dialogue from two aliens’ points of view about mankind.  

We begin by reading the story and examining what the dialogue reveals about their attitudes, their character, etc. My students are amazed at what they can tell me about the aliens simply through the dialogue – the author is very clever in use of dialogue to reveal so much!

The next day students are directed to partner-up, they get the story back and are directed to take at least 4 lines of dialogue from the story and to create scenes from it.  They really enjoy this exercise and they work together to add facial expressions, movement and gestures among other things.  Questions such as, ‘What do the aliens look like?’ come up and we discuss what is NOT provided to the reader when only dialogue is used. I give them free reign to design their aliens when adding description to the words. We share our results and discuss what is effective and what is not and we point out what has been revealed- character traits, emotional state, does it move the story along? Etc.

Student Example:
"They're made out of meat," the slimy green alien shouted as he oozed into the control room of the spaceship.

"Meat?" questioned the second alien, a bushy brown creature with blue tentacles. He did not look up, but continued to punch the buttons on the control panel before him.

Aggravated and spurting slime, the first alien repeated, "Meat. They're made out of meat."

Looking up with interest, the brown alien peered over his spectacles, "Meat?" He moved to the display console and peered out at the planet Earth.

One of the issues my 8 graders had in understanding the story was who was talking and what they were talking about. After the student shared his scene, we discussed how it becomes apparent from the start of the story who they might be referring to as a result of the description added.

You can take scenes from any story- remove the descriptive parts and leave nothing but the dialogue and speaker tag. Have students create scenes from the dialogue and then compare theirs to the original.

Through examining models, annotating examples and then trying it themselves, students develop stronger dialogue in their narratives. In addition, we are also looking at punctuation to reinforce the mechanics of dialogue.  It is important to note that once you add speaker tags and description, the punctuation changes and students practice doing this as they write.

Once we have studied dialogue and the creation of scenes, students are directed to return to their narratives and to create scenes for their own dialogue. Many times students add dialogue, understanding what it can do for a story as a result of our studies.