Monthly Archives: September 2013

Peace out, Britain. It’s over. (or The Declaration of Independence for teenagers)

It was inevitable that the time from the start of the semester to the Declaration of Independence would fly by and be here before I had the students feeling the same excitement for the drama in our country at the time. So I had to think outside of the box to get the buy in and support from the students perspective. Also, I felt an incredible pressure because I’m forced to bounce through literally the beginnings to 1800 in only 4 1/2 short weeks… which simply does NOT leave time for all of the highlights of American Literature. And – as much as I cannot believe I’m saying it – the literature really is way better with the historical hindsight!

I started class by asking students to use their breakdown strategies to predict, based on the title, what the text might be about. It is amazing that they are so used to the opinion-based questioning from before Common Core that they really struggled to figure out what it was. Eventually, with guided questioning, we got it.
Because we read Henry and Franklin, students were able to generalize why we left. I used the Shoulder Partner A/Partner B technique to review the history and their arguments before playing a video to set the tone. Every step should have a student task, so as students watched the video I had them track reasons it was too late to apologize. (You can find the video free on youtube at They LOVED this video!

Each lesson comes with some degree of student notes. For this one, notes fell in two parts.
a. We completed a short rhetoric review to build on previous lessons and review rhetorical appeals before the module assessment. Basically, I broke it down by revealing text and asking students to label them by technical name. This worked because students were expected to identify and evaluate them in the text (adding to sentence breakdown strategy).
b. We did a mini-lesson on unwrapping diction in which students took notes on denotation and connotation to think about the specific word choice in seminal documents and evaluate their use in terms of the rhetoric and effectiveness. Students are often able to recognize the power of words, and a few of them asked about the word choice in Henry’s speech so this was a natural progression. I found it more about teaching the academic vocabulary of diction, denotation, and connotation than about teaching them the skill itself.

To start the reading, I reviewed the process of close reading by having students explain it to me. Once again, I knew I needed to model and I wanted to break down the process into manageable chunks for student mastery and repetition of the process on this text and throughout the remainder of the course.

Reviewing “Break Down Complex Sentences”
Modeling Steps:
1. Read the sentences while annotating what stands out.
2. Identify the who/what of the sentence.
3. Identify the action in the sentence.
4. Paraphrase what is happening. If this sentences was easy, lump it with the next sentence.

Next, we evaluated the rhetorical appeals. This was the new learning of this section of text, so I needed to go back and model how to identify the appeals and how to think through their effectiveness. I decided in my own reading I asked myself how people who agree and people who do not agree would take the comment, then I move into whether or not it might be effective at changing anyone’s mind. So I followed those steps with the students.

Building in “Evaluating Appeals”
Steps in the Model:
1. Does this feel like ethic/credibility? Logic? Heart strings? What words do you notice to guide the appeal?
2. How would people who agree feel about this comment?
3. How would people who disagree feel about this comment?
4. Would this statement change someone’s mind? Why?

Alas, we made it through the text and students seemed to get rhetoric a little more. I think we still need to look at rhetoric throughout the semester, but for now I’m (we’re) glad to be moving into the closure of Module 1 so we can look at some texts which fall under “Literature” over “Informational” to support engagement.

On to planning the end of the module synthesis essay. Go me. Go us. Go Common Core.

P.S. I feel like I spend a tremendous amount of time trying to get the perfect product and revising the parts I would change before uploading it, and that means I am backlogged in drafts I have not published. I’ve decided to go on and publish the blogs even without the files uploaded… at least temporarily. I plan to use Fall Break to upload the file and then I will edit to include the links.

Transitioning to the American Revolution: Patrick Henry and Ben Franklin

As we move toward the close of the module, we find ourselves looking to the birth of the new nation. For this, we needed to set the stage of the historical settings, so we worked to make it fit.

1. Speech(es) to the (Virginia) Convention and a look at rhetoric.
To start this lesson, students were given a short historical hindsight lesson (notes) with a focus on rhetorical appeal. We reviewed them quickly and I realized students were able to define the appeals without fail but the recognition of them in text was something we would work on throughout the day. Additionally, I wanted them to start evaluating the rhetoric from both perspectives – those who would agree and those who would disagree – and make a call as to whether or not the rhetoric was effective overall.

I modeled this process with the first two sentences from each text.

For this task, the class was divided in to teams. One team focused on Henry’s Speech to the Convention while the other focused on Franklin’s Speech to the Virginia Convention. This worked well to make sure students were an expert on the first text. The neat thing was how the teams were decided…

First, we took a private notecard vote on whether to fight for independence or to try to just get along. Those who voted to get along were assigned to read Henry. Those who wanted to fight were assigned to Franklin.

Once the texts were assigned, the students were given their reading guide. (Find a free copy of the reading guide at

Students progressed through the reading guide at their own pace and then moved to partner with a person on the opposite text. In the end, student discussion was guided by an author comparison section of the handout right before completion of the writing prompt on comparing author ideas. This wasn’t intended to be a formal essay, but more of a constructed response as we are working hard on developing paragraphs with cited evidence from the text.

Alas, let me know your thoughts so I can work to improve this lesson before the next implementation. It felt a little slighted because there was so much I wanted to get into with the text (and limiting the teacher-talk on such an amazing series of texts was really challenging!).

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Here’s the news flash – students just don’t care for Puritan Plain Style.

For today’s lesson, I started out with reading the text several times and thinking about what it is that makes his sermon effective. Once again, I wanted to reiterate the elements of breaking down complex sentences, but then I wanted to bring in the rhetoric used in the lesson. I decided to model it after my thinking and have students look at the complex sentences before thinking about the rhetoric which makes the sentence matter.

For modeling, my questions became:
1. What is he saying?
2. How is he saying it?
3. Is he effective in getting his message across?
4. What is it that makes it effective?

For skills, I wanted to look at rhetorical devices, but the first step was looking quickly at ethos, logos, and pathos. I was quite fortunate in that the majority of my students were able to look at a blank triangle and put in the terms. I asked to students to tell me what they remembered, and I didn’t have to go into the detailed lessons reteaching the basic appeals.

At this point, I followed the suggestion of the text and looked at specific rhetorical elements of metaphor, simile, imagery, appeal to fear, and antithesis.

Here, I moved directly through the reading of the text and had students complete the reading guide.

At the end of the lesson, I wanted students to be able to identify and evaluate rhetorical elements in a speech in terms of what the speaker is saying, what he means, and how he wants it to affect the audience. In the end, I’m not sure students were able to get antithesis and implied metaphor.

Fortunately, these skills can be revisited as we move on through the next few readings so the students will be ready for the module assessment in two weeks.

Also, I will post the reading guide and a link asap. It will probably be free and just the reading guide because I’m not ready to post the PPT as I feel it needs some revision. (Link:

Suggestions? Let me know.

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Huswifery – A Brain Break with a Poetic Discussion

So far we have spent a solid two days on everything we have read. There is no way we can legitimately cover all of the biggies from American Literature in one tiny little semester. Such a tragedy in trying to narrow through the texts to find the biggest bang for the bucks. As an added bonus, if we skip too much time we have to teach students about the historical gaps because they don’t have the background needed to really comprehend the literature and the affect of the literature without a idea of the historical standpoint. Of course, I’m not sure I would have had all I needed to know either at that point in my educational journey, but at least we had a year to get through the curriculum.

Alas, if a module is 4 1/2 weeks, we are only a week behind. That can be justified since we did a Common Core Workshop during the first week to really take time to introduce expectations to the students (materials are free at; the blog entry is found at

So, we decided the students needed a break with a short task which could be accomplished in one day’s lesson. As an added bonus, we needed another practice with Accountable Talk stems. Huswifery, as old as it may be, provided exactly what we needed. What, then, did I do to prepare and how did it go?

First, I read the text and made notes. In my notes I noticed I was paraphrasing each part, so that became the reading skill for the students. This lesson was based on Accountable Talk, so I only needed to provide a quick reading support to build content knowledge and then scaffold a discussion. Just in case the conversation lulled, I knew I needed to have some discussion questions. Since I also want students to build critical thinking and self-directed, high-level questioning, I wanted them to created questions as well.

At first, students read the poem and took notes on what it made them think of and what they thought it was about. Next, I had them watch a video with a few images and the text of the poem. Here lies one thing I would change: If I were to do it again, between the individual reading and the video I would have the students share out with a shoulder partner to build knowledge and confidence. But the imagery served the purpose just as well. (You can find the video at After reading, paraphrasing the first stanza was modeled. Then, students were asked to summarize the paraphrase to get the main idea of the text. As a “We Do” the class was guided through the paraphrase process through questioning before completing the stanza summary. Students independently paraphrased and summarized the final stanza. To verify their thinking, I had students share out their ideas and then synthesize the point of the poem as a whole. From here, each student was given a post-it to create a short answer question pertaining to the text.

I collected all post-its and secretly pulled out the weak ones and added in a few I prepared in advance. All students were then given a post-it to start the discussion. I put Accountable Talk Stems on the board and set a timer for thirty minutes. From there, we had a great conversation about the text. A few students were taking notes on the poem, and I need to find a way to make more students do that.

After our discussion, we reviewed the process of close reading and paraphrasing/summarizing stanzas only to lead into a short answer writing question pertaining to the poem: What does Huswifery tell you about life during the time period? Apply what you know from previous readings to this response.


So how did the answers turn out? I think I need to do a short lesson on how to formulate a constructed response this week. Oh… And we are going to focus on support and elaboration for the writing aspect.

If you replicate this process, please let me know how it goes for you!

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Of Plymouth Plantation… and the inner city attention span

plymouth 1

As we gear up for the new week, the students gear down because they cannot be less interested in Of Plymouth Plantation. Well, they do have one question they seek to answer: What is Americanism? What does it mean to be American? So as they formulate their ideas, we study American Literature. And, this week, we transition from Pilgrims and an active, benevolent God to Sinners and an Angry God. Boy… I can feel the good vibes now!

Since the students completed the Common Core Workshop successfully, I feel confident in their ability to closely read a text, and, thanks to my intense written feedback, the quality of their text-evidence in response to TDQs has increased tremendously. In fact, for many of them, the reading guide worksheet isn’t enough room and they are writing their answers on another page.

The first step in planning this lesson was to think about anticipated difficulties. Thanks to the first sentence, I didn’t have to think very hard. The Puritan Plain Style might have been easy to Puritans, but thanks to the evolutionary writing style of a few hundred years’ writings, those complex sentences even gave me a headache! I began planning with the idea that if the students could break down the complicated structures of the key parts of the paragraphs (or sections), maybe they could understand enough to work through answering some of the text-dependent questions. However… I needed to model this one for the students too.

Thus, a reading guide was created and designed to focus on breaking down complex sentences in terms of 1. Who? What? 2. Action. Then, I divided the excerpts into major sections and created TDQs for those sections. This made the reading guide look long (5 pages), but I wanted each section to have a visual separation from the other sections and then I needed to add some pretty visuals to keep the students happy. You’d be surprised how happy a different font, cute clip art, or shaded boxes can make the students when they are looking at a complex text they wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise.

From there, I created a reading quiz modeled after the FEW samples of multiple choice PARCC questions that have been released. This is a pretty important step because my students are used to teachers giving completion credit rather than accuracy credit. Also, apparently in some classes if most of the students don’t do the work the teacher makes it extra credit for those who did it and does not penalize those who don’t do it. To combat that, mean as it may be, I have the homework for grading and the reading quiz for grading. Students can retake any reading quiz after scoring a perfect score on the homework if they so desire, but this technique has shown students I’m serious about them completing some work outside of class. After all, my job is to prepare them for college.

If you are interested, you may find this lesson plan bundle at

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