Thursday, May 21, 2015

Teaching with Graphic Novels on a Budget

I went to college with a girl who was all about using graphic novels in the classroom. She always did the best evidence-based presentations on this subject in our English education classes and finally convinced me to try them out. The first graphic novel I ever read was Maus, and I absolutely loved it. I immediately attempted to fit it into my curriculum, but due to lack of funding, it never happened. That was in 2009 ish. Ask me how many other times I tried to incorporate graphic novels after that first lame attempt? Zero...............until this year. You see, I finally found one that I could afford a class set of--- which is to say that it was FREE :)

I present to you a much more enjoyable and comprehensible version of "The Pit and the Pendulum": 

Now, we still read sections of Poe's original tale (the really good parts!), but I loved allowing students to read some parts of the graphic novel instead of the short (long) story. "The Pit and the Pendulum" is such a challenging and detailed story that in the past I lost my students before they were ever really able to get into the psychologically thrilling parts. Not only did using a graphic novel help keep students engaged, but we were also able to practice interpreting mood from the pictures and worked on summarizing skills. A huge part of a graphic novel's success is the author's ability to summarize only the essential portions of text while doing the rest of the expression through art. Also, by freeing up some time that would otherwise be used trudging through parts of the story, we were able to do some close readings of the important sections of the original text AND fit in some informational text as well (my students loved reading about John McCain's first-hand account of being a prisoner of war--so interesting!)  With saving time to deeper readings and keeping students engaged, I feel like using this graphic novel was a win, win all the way around. 

You can find all of the graphic novel activities and informational text lessons here: 

Here are some other low cost ways to use graphic novels in the classroom:

* Buy one copy of a graphic novel and use it for.....

 Review-Show certain scenes and have students review what that scene represents.

Literature Centers-  For example, one center can be dissecting important quotes from the original story, another finding literary devices, and another interpreting how a graphic artist fit certain paragraphs into a single drawing with little to no words.

Imagery examples- Sometimes you just want students to SEE something.

Mood Mini Lessons -Art is the best way to teach mood!

Summarizing practice - Read one section of text and show how the graphic novel author summarized it, then have students practice doing the same.

* Consider doing an end-of-the-year book circle with graphic novels only. Finding (or ordering)  limited copies of graphic novels in your school library is easier than buying an entire class set.

I hope that this list inspires you to add a few graphic novel lessons in your classroom. For a great list of classics turn graphic novels, check out this list: Comic and Graphic Novel Adaptations 

xoxo, Mrs. B

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Monday, May 18, 2015

How and Why to Use Word Walls with Older Students

I've been using a Word Wall with my high school students for 9 years now, and the results have been incredible. 


I have 90-minute classes, so I'm able to give my students 8-10 minutes of free reading time each day. I put this time at the BEGINNING of the class for several reasons.

1. I express that free-choice reading is SO important in helping students with many aspects of their personal and student life that it deserves to be first in my class.
2. If you save it for last, students will be more likely to talk and not read.
3. It settles a class down and sets the vibe for the remaining portion of the class.

During these 5-10 minutes of reading time, students are to find ONE word that they don't know, find challenging, or like the sound of while reading. They write this word and sentence down immediately then continue reading. Then, I give them around 3 minutes to fill out their Frayer boxes on the word they found. Since I'm in a 1:1 classroom, they do this digitally in their Classroom OneNote Notebooks. Here is what it looks like:
 If you would like this strategy, plus more vocabulary strategies for classroom OneNote, follow my OneNote Pinterest Board and download my free vocabulary notebook found in my collection!

My daily schedule goes like this:
1. Free Reading
2. Vocabulary
3. Daily Grammar Practice (See how I incorporate music into my grammar program here: link)
4. Main Lesson

Monday Vocabulary Time: 
By finding a new word each day, they will end up with 5 new words each Monday. It is on this day that I walk around the room and pick out the best of the best words. As I'm walking and checking work, I keep students busy by practicing roots words or reviewing their former words (more on this in a minute). I will ask the students with the best words to go up to my computer and type in their word, part of speech, sentence, and definition. I repeat this for all 3 classes (I'm on a block schedule) and end up with around 15-20 great words and sentences from YA books. I personally narrow these down to the top 10 that I see most often in literature and in life. I often teach a variety of grades (10th-12th), but have never had an issue with using the same list for all classes. It has always worked out well for me. I try to get the same amount of words from each class to be fair.

Tuesday Vocabulary Time: 
After I have the vocabulary list all nice and neat (remember the students did the work), I project the vocabulary list of the week up on my board, and students copy the information. Since they aren't hand-writing these, I want them to do something with them, so I make them color-code the context clues in the sentences. I label each week's words a different color. For example, Red words 1 (I also color-code my Onenote notebook for an easy way to organize) More on why I color-code in a minute. This is what my student's notebook looks like after they have highlighted the context clues.

Wednesday Vocabulary Time: 
Students review words with partners or play a game such as Kahoot, Quizlet, or ball toss (toss the ball and the catcher must call out the correct definition or they are out). I especially love using Quizlet because I simply copy and paste the words by using the "import" function (i.e. less work for me).

UPDATE! I've recently started incorporating a new game, and it might just be my FAVORITE! It's called Word Sneak, and I got this idea from my students. They were playing around and trying to make up funny sentences with the words, and I told them that we should use that as a game. They informed me that game has already been invented and is on The Tonight Show. Since I'm normally asleep by 8:30 each night, this explains why I've never seen it. ;) #partylikeanEnglishteacher

So, anyway, watch this clip to get an idea of the game then download my FREE game template here to play!

Here is a picture from my Instagram with this game in action:
I share all of my ideas first on Instagram, so be sure and follow me there! @Bsbooklove 

Thursday Vocabulary Time: 
Vocabulary Bingo: Students draw 9 boxes (3 across and 3 down) and put the new set of words in the boxes. When you build your wall up, you can use more colored sets. For example, I say, "9 boxes with any blue or red word." Once they have their boxes made, I make up sentences and have students put an X on the word that fits with the sentence until someone gets a bingo. I have a little box full of candy and toys for the winners.
I'm always surprised how much big kids like toys like these! 

Friday Vocabulary Time:
We play a different review game each Friday. Here are the ones in rotation:

* The fly swat game. I have two fly swats and make a bracket with 8 teams (I just have my students number off to 8). The teams go up against each other until the bracket gets to a winner. The first person to swat the correct word on the wall gets to move up the bracket. I do single elimination so this game doesn't take too long.

*Quizlet Live. This is my students' new favorite game!!! 

From my Instagram page: @Bsbooklove 

*Others mentioned above such as ball toss, word sneak, Kahoot or bingo. 

I also give a quiz each Friday over the new set of words PLUS last week's words OR ....and here's where it gets complicated to explain... the same colored set of words. For example, my quizzes will go like this:

Week 1- Red words
Week 2- Red words plus new Blue words
Week 3- Blue words plus new Yellow words
Week 4- Yellow words plus new Green words
Week 5- Green words plus new Orange words
Week 6- Red words 1 plus new Red words 2
Week 7 Blue words 1 plus new Blue words 2

I use sentences with context clues for my quizzes. Since we practice highlighting context clues on Tuesday, this really helps them to search for these on the quiz. I differentiate by highlighting the context clues for certain students.


*As you can see, having a color-coded visual of words makes it extremely easy for teachers and students to constantly review new words.

*If you are trying to add more Greek and Latin words into your curriculum as I am, you can focus on a root a week and have students try to find these roots in their reading. You can also add quiz questions regarding these roots.
Check out my Root Word Sneak game here!

*Word Walls set the atmosphere for easy, no-prep games to add fun to your classroom.
My students getting way too into the fly swat game :) 
*Students love being able to look at this wall and add words to their writing (I always put a huge smiley face when I see a word wall word used in student writing).

*Students take ownership of their vocabulary instruction.

*It helps set a routine for your class which is very beneficial for behavior problems.

*It promotes good reading skills

*It promotes free-choice reading. We do a book project every 9 weeks, and it's the best day of the year. I absolutely LOVE the creative projects my students come up with. Want to get a FREE download for my Fun Foodie Book Project Choices? Sign up for my newsletter to receive your free download!

*Word Walls give you an instant inspiration board when you want students to practice writing grammatically correct sentences. (For example: Tell them, "Use one blue word and one yellow word to form a compound sentence using a semicolon")

For a free vocabulary template, click here: 5 New Words a Week Template

Want to see my newly updated Word Wall letters to match my new Harry Potter-ish themed classroom? Click Here: Harry Potter Secondary Classroom

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sailing Into Summer: End -of-Year Secrets and Tips

      1. One final exam tip – If you haven't yet found the teacher gift from the heavens also known as Zipgrade, then this is a must for final exam day. I kissed our fickle scantron machine (and the long teacher lines that go with it) goodbye about a month after downloading this app, and I haven't looked back since. First off, instead having to leave your classroom to grade exams (or worse yet, grade them by hand- gasp!), you can grade from the comfort of your classroom while students are working on the essay portion of the test (though I have to admit I never give essay portions on finals). This is a nice perk to the app, but the real benefit comes from the data analysis function. Within seconds you can analyze which questions were most frequently missed and thus know what to improve on next year. 

     2. One thing I want to do again next year—One of my goals this year was to add more movement in my classroom. My classes are 90 minutes long, my school starts at 7:30, and my high school students just can't stay awake. There’s nothing worse than looking up from reading a section of text to find that half of the class is either asleep or zoned out. Here are some things I did to add movement:
       * Informational Text Triangle Meetup: Every time we read informational articles, I make sure to have 3 different texts pertaining to the same theme.I put students in groups of 3 and give each one a different article. They read silently for 10 minutes then meet at their “point” of the triangle to discuss with those who read the same article. After a quick discussion, they move back to their original group and pass the articles to repeat the process.  

 *Literary Yoga. I got this idea during a morning workout, and it has been an absolute hit. I use parts or all of it when students need an energizing moment. It can be used with practically any piece of literature and can also serve as a no-prep way to review before literature tests. 

Read a blog post on how I use yoga in the classroom here: Yoga in the classroom 

 3. One thing I want to change next year- Honestly, I could think of about 10 things I need to change for next year, but I will stick with just one---GRAMMAR. Oh dear. I think that I've changed the way I teach grammar every single year (7 years now!).  I haven’t liked a single strategy well enough to keep doing it. Sigh. One idea I had mid-year that I will for sure try next year is to make a grammar tutorial and Google doc quiz to add as my “Quickmarks” on Turnitin. That way, I can give my students individualized grammar help AND assess their improvement. If your school doesn't provide Turnitin for you, read this post to find out why you should beg and plead for this service! Do you have a really awesome way of teaching grammar??? Please share in the comment section!! 

  4.  One gift idea. I'm the girl who brings a veggie tray to a party….there I said it. However, I think people really appreciate having healthy options. That’s why I try to put a healthy twist on the gifts I give. Check out this free Gift Tag I made to attach to smoothie cafe gift cards! 

  5. One classroom organization tip. This isn't really an organization tip per say, but I've been on a major decluttering phase for the past 2 years in my personal life and those strategies have spilled over to my classroom as well. My husband and I have this dream of living in a mortgage-free tiny house, and I've been paring down month after month in our current 1,092 square foot house in order to fit into one-half its size one day. As far as my classroom goes, I finally gave up all of the teaching material that came with my room when I moved in--all of that stuff I “might use one day.” If I haven't used that stack of crap yet, then I'm never going to. Among the stuff I donated or threw out, I found a flute (no idea), old school projector transparencies, and countless VHS tapes of educational shows that had been recorded at home. I let it goooooooooo. I feel so free! On a related note, this is one of the HUGE benefits of Teachers Pay Teachers. Experienced, master teachers can share their best work in a meaningful way---not by leaving it boxed up for the next teacher to attempt to weed through then feel guilty for eventually throwing most of it out.
    Happy Summer, xoxo, 
    B's Book Love 

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Grading Tips for English Teachers Who Still Want a Life

First and foremost, let me say that dragging 75 papers home to grade over the weekend is not a badge of honor. It doesn’t prove that you are a good teacher. And it certainly won’t get you an adequate return on your time investment. The educational magic happens in the classroom—not in your lonely living room on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

 Here are some essay grading tips to help you take back your weekends:

1. Embrace group essays. The demand on writing is so high and my time so short that there is simply no way to get in as many full, individual essays that are needed. Group essays are a remedy to this problem. For example, when we do an essay on color symbolism found in The Great Gatsby ,  I divide my students into groups of three or four. Each student is responsible for one body paragraph, but they work as a team on the introduction and conclusion. All group members must be in agreement on the thesis statement before work on individual body paragraphs begin. The discussions I hear from this step are fantastic. Students must think about the thesis statement in ways they never had to before since they can finally understand that it is the piece that holds the entire essay together. Once the thesis is set, they work on their individual paragraphs and paste the essay together. Then, during peer review, I announce that every person in the group will receive the exact same essay grade, so they better take their peer review seriously. Oh man, this works like a charm. This will be the best writing discussions you will hear all year! Trust me! Not only are group essays a fantastic learning tool, but they also cut way down on my grading. Instead of 25 essays per class, this strategy cuts my grading down 8 per class. Winning!!!!

 2. Let the real learning take place during the writing process, not after. Much to an English teacher’s dismay, most students quit caring about an essay the minute they submit the final. Therefore, I started focusing my time on the revising aspect of the writing process rather than final outcome, and the results have been tremendous. The best part: My students are doing the work, not me. It’s called color-coding people, and it changed my life. There are many color-coding strategies out there, but after trying lots, this is the one that worked best for me: FLASH Writing and Revising. The key is to find a strategy that will allow students to highlight the aspects of writing you are focusing on. For example, if students are forgetting to embed quotes, teach that lesson then have the students color-code parts of sentence needed for a proper embedded quotation. This strategy can apply to EVERYTHING. If they don’t have the proper coloring, they revise then color-code their proof of learning and submit the coded essay. From a grading point of view, this saves me time by allowing my eyes to zoom in on the key elements of writing I want them to learn. Rather than needing to carefully read each word, color-coding makes it easier to scan for content mistakes such as missing evidence. Plus, this method makes it easier for me to give students one-on-one help as I walk around the classroom because I can quickly see by a glance at their screen who needs help with what. I could go on and on. If you only try one tip from this list, let this be the one.

3.  Beg and plead for your school to buy a subscription to Turnitin. Seriously. This alone shaves hours off of my essay grading time. The reason being is that it has this nifty feature called “quick marks” where you can program comments that you have to write/type repeatedly such as “Use better transitions.” Once you have these programed, you can simply drag the comments over to the associated area on the essay. The best part is that you can add an example or link in the comment section to give students practice on specific , tailored skills. Personally, I’m working on creating a Google Doc quiz for common grammar mistakes so that when students are reviewing their graded essays, they will be linked to the  grammar rule they need to learn and will then take a short quiz to practice the rule. If you are going to put time into grading, at least make sure students benefit from your hard work! Other great features Turnitin has include its grammar mistake detector, automatic rubric, voice comment options, and of course the thing they are most known for which is the plagiarism detector.  I use the grammar checker as a rough draft tool so that students can correct their essays before turning in the final; it’s not perfect, but it catches most mistakes. The automatic rubric is handy because it does the math for you, and I use the voice comment function when I want to “conference” with my students without taking class time to do so.

        No luck at getting Turnitin?  Try these other options:

      *Explain Everything App for voice comments and annotations
      *Make your own quick marks to copy and paste them into the comment section of Word or Google Docs.

 4. Protect your planning time. I’m a sweet person, I truly am, but mess with my planning time, and I get grouchy real quick like. My first job straight out of college was in a K-8 elementary school. All of the other teachers in my hall were super nice and wanted to make me feel welcome. This was so kind, but it led to a huge problem. A couple of these teachers got into the habit of checking in on me every day during my planning. Again, this was nice, but when small talk turned into 30 minute conversations, I barely had enough time left to set my room up for the day, never mind grade papers. So, when I moved to the school I teach at now, I made it a point to protect my planning time, and my productivity has improved tenfold. I socialize at lunch and after school, but during my planning, my door is locked, and I’m working so hard that when someone does stop by, they ALWAYS say, “Sorry to bother you but…” . They sense that I’m busy and know that I can’t talk for long. I’m a teaching superwoman on my planning because I stay focused, don’t socialize, make lists, and give myself goals for the day. Give me a gold star already! I want a sticker!

5. Strategically place movie days and test days. I realized that movie days are frowned upon. I get it. That doesn't stop me from showing them though because there are some films out there that simply MUST be viewed and studied.  Plus, Common Core gives us standards that we have to meet such as Speaking and Listening SL.9-10.2, “Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats…” So, if you are going to show a movie, don’t waste it. Instead, strategically plan your movie day for the day after an essay is due. That way, while your students are engaged with the movie, you can use your time wisely by grading essays.

You can find hundreds of other movie guides by searching “______ movie guide” on Teachers Pay Teachers as well! Also, check out this fantastic post: Affective Activities to Use with Digital Media in Any Class

Test days are also great days to work on grading essays, but you have to go about it the smart way. If you use your test day time to grade essays, but then have to spend the next day grading tests, then you really didn’t come out to the good. Instead, use an online grading tool such as Google Docs, Canvas, Socrative or my favorite Zipgrade. When I bought the Zipgrade app, it was around $6.99. TAKE MY MONEY! This app is amazing. I can grade 75 tests in 2 minutes and within another minute I can know exactly which questions students struggled with because it has this awesome data function that gives me the percentage of how many students missed question x, y or z. I love it! Such a time saver!

 I sincerely hope that you try out some of these tips because it makes me extremely sad to see passionate, creative English educators turn into exhausted, overwhelmed, overworked,  ready-to-quit individuals. The demands that are being placed upon us are arduous, but not impossible. Don’t be afraid of spending the weekends exploring your others passions or relaxing. Teacher burnout is real and English teachers are especially susceptible to this depressing outcome. You won’t be able to be your awesome self in the classroom if you are having to use up all of your teaching energy at home on the weekends. Truth.   

B's Book Love 

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