Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Real-World Beowulf Essay Topic: A Write Like This inspired prompt that students actually enjoy

This week I had a conversation that I've never had before. It made me want to smile and want to cry all at the same time.

Student: What tone should I use for this essay?

Me: What do you mean?

Student: You know, how should I word it? What are you looking for?

Me: Let's look at your mentor articles. How did these authors go about it? This one had more of a conversational tone and this one had more of a formal tone, so which tone do you like most?

Student: You mean I can write how I want to write and what I want to write about???

Me: Yes!

Student (male by the way): Oh, well I'm good then. I'll be good at this!

And you know what? He was good. He wrote a beautiful and passionate article about how the universal themes in Beowulf can be applied to his weight loss journey (he's lost 60 pounds and carries a gallon of water with him every day!).

The reason this made me want to cry was that I wish I had been doing this type of writing all along. Simply calling it an article made all the difference. Students hate essays, but they don't hate expressing themselves in a format that seems relevant. There is a difference.

 It wasn't until reading Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts by Kelly Gallagher that I even came to this realization. I'm 10 years into this teaching gig, and it saddens me to think of all the boring/traditional essays I've assigned in the past. I do believe that there is time and place for traditional essays in the classroom because they will most definitely show up on standardized tests, but I now wholeheartedly believe that if you can find a way to incorporate real-world writing into the classroom, then overall writing in every style will improve.

When I first starting reading Write Like This, I almost dismissed it. I thought his practical examples and ideas were great, but they seemed to belong in a stand-alone writing class such as journalism or a creative elective. None of them seemed to fit themes or go along with literature. However, after thinking about it more and finding some literature-based examples further on in his book,  I began to realize that I could apply his ideas to almost any literature we were reading because the basic concept is this: Find real-world mentor texts. Have students mimic these texts. Mimic the texts yourself for modeling. 

                              Here is what I came up with for our first Write Like This writing: 

Real-World Beowulf Essay 

After finishing the epic, I had students zigzag read real- world articles on Beowulf

No matter if you are writing a college entrance essay, starting a business, or running a non-profit foundation, telling your story is the most important part. Without a story, no one will connect to your words. Since the beginning of stories, with Beowulf being the first one in the English language, humans have used these narratives to shape their own lives and businesses. 
For examples of how these universal themes are applied to real-life situations, read a couple of the following articles: 

***If you are reading this because you want an example and don't need Beowulf articles, I found these by googling "Beowulf and Business" which led to lots of leadership posts. I suggest starting with "________ and business" and then go on to "lessons from ________". I also found some articles for Lord of the Flies using this searching same strategy. You can find those in my Pinterest board: Informational Text Pairings. 

Next, we did a did a close reading by highlighting the thesis statement and all main points (topic sentences) in blue and proof from Beowulf in pink.

Then, I gave students this prompt to think about for homework. 

Using a passion, interest, or future/current job, write an article about the top 5 lessons you learned from Beowulf that can be directly applied to your topic. This will have an introduction and a conclusion, but the middle part will be in 5 sections that have the lesson in bold and the explanation with examples under it. You will need to use Beowulf and one outside source with MLA citations within your article. 

The next day, we reread the articles and discussed the thesis statements more in-depth and wrote our own. 

Mentor Text Examples: 
***If you want these examples in an editable PowerPoint or Slides format, please see the signup form at the bottom of this email***



 After that, we filled out the rest of our introduction by observing what our model texts used as hooks and background information. 

Hook Examples from Mentor Texts: 
***If you want these examples in an editable PowerPoint or Slides format, please see the signup form at the bottom of this email***


After writing our introduction paragraphs, I modeled how the body of their article should be written by looking at the mentor texts and then writing my own example in front of them. I chose "Teaching lessons from Beowulf" as my topic (obviously).

I personally wasn't brave enough to talk it out while doing this as Write Like This suggests, but I did type it out in front of them. I told them that I was going to be working own my own while they worked on theirs. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see almost all of my students stop what they were doing from time to time to watch how I changed things and worked through my ideas.

Later on, I did go into detail about my word choice and sentence variety, but that wasn't until it came time for revision.

Here are my examples and modeling: 

  1. Never let one monster of a student ruin your entire class community. Teachers and students spend more time with each other than they do with their own family members, and because of this time together, it's important and natural to form a classroom community. When the community is good, everyone benefits. When the community is terrorized by one rogue student, everyone suffers. Hrothgar knew that nothing good would ever be able to happen in Herot after Grendel decided to destroy their peace, so he "gave places to the Geats" and welcomed Beowulf to help him rid his community of the troublemaker (Raffel 49).

  1. Don't be afraid to welcome help (even when you didn't ask for it). Though Hrothgar was a powerful king, he wasn't afraid to welcome the unsolicited help of Beowulf. Beowulf arrived with a request and boasted," The days of my youth have been filled with glory…grant me, then, …a single request…to purge all evil from this hall" (Raffel 144-166). It would have been easy for an authoritative king to dismiss this arrogant vow of service, but Hrothgar didn't let pride get in the way of doing what was best for his people. Being the kings and queens of their classroom, teachers can sometimes bristle at unsought support; however, accepting help from an experienced teacher is a sign of strength, not weakness.

  1. Use the right tool for each quest. Beowulf has a keen sense of knowing which tools to use in every situation. With Grendel, he didn't use any weapons, but with Grendel's mother, he realized that a giant's sword was needed to get the job done. Likewise, teachers should know when tools such as computers, apps, and manipulatives are best fitted for each learning quest. For example, if the goal is to help students read complex text more efficiently, then Common Lit's new guided reading tool might be the best-suited weapon. This tool is perfect for this job because the "guided reading mode focuses on ensuring that students of all reading levels are able to follow along with and comprehend complex texts" ("New Features from Literacy Tool Continue to Help Struggling Readers Manage Difficult Text").

The best part about this assignment is that I told my students this wouldn't be a 7 paragraph essay (they are used to writing the common 5 paragraph essay) because some of their points might need less explanation than others and therefore not making each point a full paragraph. Turns out that ALL of my students got into the flow of writing and just kept going on each one. I did too as you can see above. So basically, I tricked them into writing a substantial essay without complaint simply because I called it an article, made the format something different from what they were used to, and allowed them to write about what they were interested in. I'm going to call this one a win!

If you want the prompt and examples above in an editable PowerPoint or Slides, please sign up below. Be sure to check your email spam and promotions folder if it doesn't go through. If you already subscribe and would like this PowerPowerPoint as well, just email me and ask for it. 

If you are looking for an entire Beowulf unit plan with real-world activities and informational text, please check out my entire Beowulf lesson plan pack here: Beowulf Unit Plan  Within it, you will find a fun interview assignment, confidence boosting articles, creative writing on the dragons we face in life, and lots more. 

Be sure to follow my Instagram for more English teacher happenings. :) 

Write Like This linked above is an affiliate link. If you think that you would enjoy more real-world writing examples like this one, I would love for you to support my blog by using the link I provided. It doesn't cost you any more money, and I get a tiny percentage in a return. Thank you!

Friday, January 20, 2017

How to Liven Up Your Socratic Seminar

One of my favorite things about being an English teacher is hearing my students have deep discussions about literature. I mean half of the people I know go to book clubs for fun, so how awesome is it that I get paid to do this!? ...sans wine, ;)

 The value of Socratic seminars is tremendous, but just like with anything, hosting them the same way every time becomes mundane for you and your students. That said, here are some ways to spice up your next seminar. 

1. Flipgrid- My teacher neighbor and friend told me about Flipgrid, and it's AWESOME. You post a question/video at the top of the grid (that's me up there) and students add their own video response under it (no login required! whoop, whoop!). My friend Jenna at DocCop Teaching helped me with an Instagram PD event (search #IGforPDTech), so you can how she simply clicked on the plus sign then added her response. Supposedly, if you are a Microsoft certified teacher, you can get the classroom version for free (which will allow additional responses under each response), but if you are like me and can only use the free version, there are still so many things you can do with it! For example, when you assign articles or chapter reading for homework, you can have students post a discussion question on the grid. To make it more challenging and interesting, tell students that they can't repeat anyone else's question. If they are late to posting, they must listen to the questions then post an original one. The next day in class, you can put students into smaller groups and play a few of the best questions to guide their discussions. Students will need to download the app if they are using a smartphone, but no extra steps are needed with the desktop version.

Students in action. Go follow my friend Jamie if you love finding new tech tools because she is my go-to for everything new!

2. Socratic Soccer Ball- This one of mine has been a huge hit on Pinterest (and rightly so!). This is fun, quick, and gets students up out of their seats!  #goals

If you want further directions and a set of questions for your soccer ball, be sure sign up for my newsletter here:

If you happen to be looking to tweak this question ball for younger readers, you should check out this blog post that featured my idea in their roundup: Reading comprehension games that students will want to play over and over! 

3. Emoji Stems- Another fun way to get students talking is to make accountable talking a little more fun by adding in emojis. I created these emoji posters, task cards, and Socratic seminar props/prompts to take a little of the formality out of circle time. When students feel comfortable, they are more willing to open up and let their ideas flow. To use the props/prompts, have students pick an emoji (the associated talking points are on the back) and hold it up (either in front of their face or at their chest). Once they work their point in, they put it down. This makes it easy to keep track of who as added to the conversation.
What students see on the back of their emoji 

Task cards that can also be printed as full-size posters! 

4. Google Docs or OneNote Collaboration- All of the options above require voice-to-voice discussions, but I also like to add in silent discussion opportunities for my shy geniuses. To do this, I create a 4x # of students table in the OneNote collaboration section (this can also be done in a shared Google document). Then, I add in student names (they will type over top of each other if you let them add their own name unless you have numbered desks). Next, I have students come up with a color combination for their name. For example, one might choose red letters with yellow highlights. The only rule is that no two students can have the same color names. After that, I have students type in discussion questions or insight using their color combination. Lastly, I have students reply to at least 3 other people while keeping their same color combination. By doing this, students can visualize who has replied to whom, and I can easily glance to see which students did all 6 tasks.

5. The 3, 2, 1 Strategy- This is a perfect strategy to use when you assign reading for homework. Instead of giving students worksheets or guiding questions, have them fill out a 3-2-1 Socratic seminar preparedness guide. For instance, have them find 3 questions that will generate discussion, 2 insights about..., (setting, characters, etc) and 1 important line from the chapter. To cut down on cheating and Sparknote use, be sure to tell students that none of their questions or answers can be repeated during the Socratic seminar, so it would be to their best interest to save their work for their own use.

A great way of keeping up with this type of discussion is to draw a conversation mapping chart on the board and fill it in in real time to follow the conversation. I got this idea at an Edcamp my school hosted. The teacher charted hers on paper, but I thought it would be even better to make the chart visible to students in order for them to self-regulate conversation domination or lack thereof.  I made this chart by drawing a huge circle on my board then filling in the four points: myself at the top and three of my strong point-makers on the other three sides (Gage, Holdan, and Jamison). Then, I let the other students circle up and write their name on the board. This took all of two minutes to do and was a lot easier than me having to fill in each name.
Charting class discussions in real time

Bonus Ideas: 
I asked for Socratic Seminar inspiration Instagram, and it got a ton of brilliant replies. If you are looking for more ideas, be sure to read through the comments!

There are too many great ones to add, but here are a few that I really loved:

@MudInkandTeaching uses transitions words to help propel the conversation (I love this because it helps students learn new transitions and how to use them which is always a state-tested skill)

@Sammy_Sam22 uses dice to roll in the center in which the numbers correspond to a prompt on the board.

@DavidRickert7 reminded me of a recent blog post of his about even more ways to have a successful Socratic Seminar. I tried his "dump the fishbowl" strategy and can verify that this works better for my students as well.

@Laurenblou uses bingo cards. I couldn't find these online, but I whipped one up and made it editable in PowerPoint so that you can change the tasks to fit the needs of your students.
Free download here: Editable Socratic Seminar Bingo Card 
 If you like it, feedback is greatly appreciated! :) 

Soccer Ball Socratic Seminar and other great seminar ideas!
Be sure to follow my Instagram account to join in on some fun and nerdy conversations like this one! Ha! @BsBookLove