Monday, April 30, 2018

How to Turn Up Your Transcendentalism Unit: Activities to help bring Emerson and Thoreau to Life!

Because Transcendentalism is one of my absolute favorite units to teach in American Literature, it only recently came to my attention that lots of other teachers (and students) find this unit extremely boring. Since that hasn't been my experience, I thought I would share some ways I make my Transcendentalism unit engaging and meaningful! 

How To Turn Up Your Transcendentalism Unit 

Hook Ideas: 

I will start with a perfect way to hook students. Behold, a game literally made for this unit--Walden, a game. 

While mainstream video games are full of fast speeds, gruesome violence, and blaring sounds, the award-winning computer game, Walden, a Game is refreshingly different. Instead of playing faster, gamers can only win by slowing down. Instead of gruesome violence, players face challenges in a peaceful forest. Instead of blaring noise, participants hear the soothing sounds of nature and acoustic melodies. 
Me playing Walden a Game. Thoreau is reading a letter from Emerson right now. 

Since this game is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities (among other sponsors), educators can get a FREE license! They also offer discounted licenses for students as well! I purchased this game for $15 and absolutely love the design of it and the meaning behind it. If you can't request discounted licenses for students, you can still use parts of this game in your lessons. 

For example: 
*You can show the trailer above as an intro to Thoreau.
*You can set up stations and have students play around with your free license of the game as one of the stations. 
* You can use multiple articles about this game as informational text pairings. In Walden Video Game, Stillness is the Challenge from the New York Times  or  Can a Video Game Capture the Magic of Walden? from Smithsonian 
*You can use this free project guide I created as an essay choice or project choice for students who choose to buy and play the game independently. 
* You can use their "Behind the Sounds of Walden" video to teach how sensory language helps create mood and pace (or as a model "text" for projects with sounds, see project choice above).

If you are able to purchase licenses for your students, Walden, a Game provides lesson plans for free here: Walden a Game Lesson Plans  

Engagement Ideas: 

You can follow me on Instagram @buildingbooklove
On a personal note, I’m an English teacher in East Tennessee who downsized to my own tiny cabin in the woods two years ago on Earth Day. Much of my inspiration for living a simpler yet fuller life comes from the teachings and the teaching of Emerson and Thoreau. Therefore, I strive to make Emerson and Thoreau relevant to my students by providing hands-on opportunities to connect with the text. 

For example:

*Have students make and decorate paper cups that show their individuality as well as which talents they would like to grow. As a hands-on metaphor, have students plant and take care of the seeds. Talents can only grow if one tills and nurtures those talents. I did this project on Earth Day a few years back, and my students LOVED getting their hands dirty and watching their seeds grow. This was before my blogging days, so I don't have any pictures, but you can get the idea above. 

* Have students track their Transcendalism throughout the unit. You will get a base reading (you can find these questions here) and then have students work toward increasing their Transcendental qualities through challenges inspired by Emerson and Thoreau. 

*Take students outdoors. What better way to engage with Emerson's "Nature" than reading it outdoors in NATURE? 

* Have students complete project-based learning by applying Transcendentalism to the real world. Since I live in a tiny house, I love any lesson that I can tie that into. Do you know who else lived in a tiny house!? THOREAU! This fact makes a perfect launch for comparing tiny house dwellers to the theories of Thoreau. For this project, I have students create a tiny house community that is designed with Emerson and Thoreau in mind. Other PBLs include Walden, a game (download the handout for free here) and creating a school improvement plan based on Transcendental values. 

All of these ideas and lots more can be found in my Transcendentalism Unit Plan because I want to make it easy for teachers to bring Emerson and Thoreau to life in their classrooms! I truly believe the world needs a lot less stress and a lot more nature right now. 

Classroom Design Challenge: Planning Your Classroom Setup and Decor

This will be the home page for the 7-task classroom design challenge that will help you plan and create the classroom of your dreams!   Be sure to sign up below! 

Background Information: 

Why I started this challenge: Even though I'm a high school teacher, I have always loved decorating my classroom because I believe that the environments you surround yourself in (home and your home away from home) have the ability to affect your mood, mindset, and quality of life. Over the years, I had built up a homey and welcoming classroom, but in 2017, my classroom when from...

While I cried at the sight of it, I’m now thankful that I was forced to completely clean out my room before leaving for my sabbatical. I’m thankful because it gave me a chance to have a fresh start and design a classroom of my dreams! 

Since I have found myself designing a classroom from scratch, I thought why not share my designing process with other teachers who are looking for classroom design inspiration as well! Thus, this 7-task challenge was born. 

If you would like to sign up for this FREE AND FUN challenge, subscribe here: 

While I will be posting tips within this blog post, you will want to be on the email list because that is where I will send you the worksheets, templates, and challenge tasks! If you are late to the party, the emails will come in order so that you can catch up. :)

Classroom Design Task 1: Clear the Clutter 

When you sign up for the challenge, you will get this decluttering worksheet to print off and help you on your decluttering mission. This worksheet goes along with one of my most popular posts: 

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Classroom 

Classroom Design Task 2: Pin Palooza 

Did you know that pinning gives you the same hit of dopamine as actually buying things? That's because studies show that it's the anticipation of a reward that increases dopamine levels rather than the actual reward. This week we are going to have lots of happy anticipation without spending a dime! Make sure you are signed up for the design challenge to get my pinning tips! If you would like to see my classroom inspiration board, you can find me on Pinterest @BuildingBookLove

Classroom Design Task 3: Notice and Note 
Now that you've pinned your heart out, it's time to notice and note what you are drawn to the most! Which pins stand out or create a pattern of repetition? Take note. This is the style you are drawn to because it keeps showing up again and again. After noticing what you are attracted to the most, now is the time to delete the duds. Just like with decluttering your classroom, you must delete the visual clutter from your board (or start a new one) so that your board has only the BEST of the BEST.

Classroom Design Task 4: Mood-board Mania 
After noticing and noting, it's time to narrow down your design even more by creating a mood board for your classroom design. You can create one of these very easily in PowerPoint! I have a video within my email handouts that teach you exactly how I made the mood board above. Making a mood board is easier when you find a lead piece to start your design. Can you tell which is my lead piece in this picture? Hint, I found it here: SpoonFlower. This one specific piece helped me make all of the other choices for my design! Be sure to sign up above to get help with choosing a lead piece! 

Classroom Design Task 5: Floorplan Formula
Creating a classroom floorplan that you can see in 3D is a lot easier than you think! I have a five-minute tutorial for you that shows you how to use to get a to-scale rendering of your classroom design plan. But before you start playing with that, be sure to do your research first! 

Here are some great classroom design articles to help you begin your research: 
Flexible Seating Paradise by Cult of Pedagogy

Classroom Design Task 6: Blank Wall Brainstorm 

One of the biggest design challenges for classrooms is deciding what to do with HUGE blank walls. There are basically only three ways to overcome this design challenge which you will learn about in this task!

1. Keep your walls blank. This is an actual classroom design theory.  I personally don’t like this option for all of my walls, but if you like the peace that blank walls provide, then keep them blank!

2. Use LARGE art installations. Large murals can be very pricey, but there are ways to accomplish this without busting your budget. Here are some things you might not have thought of:
*Use a shower curtain as art (must see picture to believe this one)
*Use paint or premade rolls to create a large chalkboard or large scale stripes
*Use large prints as posters (more on this below)
*Search Pinterest for DIY Large Scale Art 
* Look for a cheap tapestry 

I made a poster and had it printed onto a $3 engineering print. The “wand” is a $5 curtain rod (a free stick would have worked as well) and the pages were free. So for $7 I made a HUGE wall statement. 

Here I used book WRAPPING PAPER from Spoonflower  and stapled it to my walls. If you have cinderblock, I recommend either using dabs of hot glue or taping painters tape exactly where you want the paper and adding hot glue to that then the pressing the paper around the edges. I also recommend only using wrapping paper in low traffic areas. For the sign in the middle, I made a poster in the exact size I needed then used Publisher to break it into squares. I printed out onto 20 sheets of printer paper that I taped together to make one large poster (FOR FREE!)  

If you want to learn how to create posters for your classroom, this will teach you how!

3. Use small pieces grouped together to create one cohesive display.  One small poster or item on a large wall looks out-of-place, but when you group smaller items together, you suddenly have a chic display. For example:
*Small posters grouped together 
*Small mirrors or clocks grouped together
*Small papers grouped together to create a large geometric shape (think paper flowers or multi-color squares.)
*Small clipboards grouped together to display student work 

Classroom Design Task 7: Actually Take Action  

Now that you have your plan ready to go, it’s time to take action and make the classroom of your dreams happen! Since I’m not a fan of spending my summers in my classroom, I plan on actually implementing my design within a week (and I did!). Having a concrete plan (which you already have!) will make your design come together in no time! All that’s left is the figuring out how to fund your classroom design.
Here are actionable steps to take:
1. Make a list of the items you need and sort them from most important to least important.
2. Take that list and divide it. Make one column “likely to get donated” and one column “unlikely to get donated.” For example, if you were to create a Donor’s Choose request asking for a rose gold desk organization set, that would most likely not get funded. However, if you made a request for lamps to help create a welcoming and peaceful classroom environment, that would be more likely to get support!
3. Make a budget for the side of the list you will be funding yourself. Start buying from the top down (most important to least important). 
4. Set up FB Marketplace notifications (or any service like this) for the items you need so that you can catch deals that come up. Go to yard sales: Yard Sale Finds for Your Classroom .
5. Post your mood board and floorplan on social media asking friends and family if they have anything that fits your design.
6. Write a Donor's Choose or grant proposal. Remember your RHETORIC! Use pathos to appeal to emotion (talk about why your students are deserving), logos to appeal to logic  (bring in the research), and ethos to make yourself trustworthy and deserving (explain the type of educator you are/want to be). 

7. Finish designing your own posters and get them printed or start searching for art that will fit your design. 

I would LOVE to see your classroom before and afters! Tag me on any social media @BuildingBookLove

****Update*** I'm now ready to give a tour of my finished classroom! You can see it here: High School Classroom Tour

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Paint Chip Poetry Without the Guilt + Literary Paint Names

So absolutely no judgment for teachers who use paint chips for lessons because #itsforthekids , but if you are like me and feel a little sheepish stuffing 100 of these into your bag at the hardware store, I have a solution for you! 

First, here are my favorite paint chip poetry lesson plans: 

Paint Name Haiku- Paint names can be a beautiful form of creative writing and when organized in certain ways, they can make a lovely Haiku. This can be a creative writing assignment, or you can use this activity as a way of expressing a special setting in a story (mood fits right along with this!)
Color Symbolism Poetry- I love color symbolism because it helps students think more abstractly about a text. Paint chip colors are ideal for this--think characters who are associated with colors, imagery, and more!
Shades of Meaning- Just as the colors on a paint chip grow deeper, so should analysis. Paint chips are a great visual for scaffolding shades of meaning with vocabulary, interpretation, etc.

I hope this gives you some creative ideas to incorporate paint chip poetry into your lessons because each assignment above can become a poetry pairing for any text! With the Haiku, you can work with setting and mood. With the color symbolism, you can work with characterization and tone. With the shades of meaning, you can work with vocabulary and close reading. 
The possibilities are endless, but the paint chips are not. 
Though people have different opinions on whether taking paints chips for projects is stealing, I'm just going on how it makes me feel. If I had an elementary class of 25, I would probably be totally cool with it. However, when I have to get enough paint chips for 100 high schoolers, that makes me feel a little guilty--not to mention there's never enough in stock of the names I need!
This is why I decided to make a digital paint chip resource. I will never have to run to the hardware store before a lesson, and these paint chips will never run out! 

In this resource, I teach you how to make all kinds of different shades for your students as well as where to find the paint names online. Not only can students create beautiful writing with these digital paint chips, but they can also add images to highlight their paint chip poems. 

These are so fun that I decided to host a little contest with my email list friends, and the results were hilarious! 
Here was the prompt: 
For fun, if there were an English teacher section in the paint aisle, what would be some of the paint names?
Red- My Bleeding Pen
Green- Gatsby is Still Reaching
Ok, I will stop now. ;) Email me yours, and I will send a prize back to my favorite!

 (Spoiler, I couldn't pick a favorite, so I had to put them in a poll on Instagram and the winners are on the top of each chip-except for the Nevermore winner which I put on a deeper shade). 
Here were the results: 


You could definitely do this activity as an English teacher icebreaker before a PD session. It's so much fun! I would probably just show these examples then give each group a color to roll with! 

Nevermore- Jessamin J.
Hester's Secret- Alicia F.
The Wallpaper- Lorraine K.
Peeta's Sunset- Tyna C.
Teal Summer Break- Rhonda D.

Feel free to add a comment with more! 

I'm hoping a paint company will see this and pay us all royalties, or at least give us free paint for our classrooms, ha!