Monday, December 19, 2016

Gustave Dore

Paul Gustave Dore was an artist that grabs the attention of students when they see his work.  What really blows their minds is when they understand how he creates his art.  At first glance, you would think that he works in pencils.  Look below at this image from Don Quixote:

If you are as old as I am, you may have remembered him fighting the windmill with a huge toothbrush from some Saturday morning commercial

However, he was too hard core for that.  He made his art as prints.  Which means that he took a block of wood and carved out everything that is white.  Then he would dip the block in ink and press it onto the paper.  On top of all that, he never had any formal training.  He is completely self taught.  That might be one reason that the art critics of his day did not like him.

He did illustrations for many books, some you may teach, like...

Paradise Lost

Take that, Satan!

The Inferno

The students always points out that he doesn't have three faces, but it is still a cool image.  If you look closely enough, you can see him chewing on Judas.

The Bible

Idylls of the King

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

This is only a sample.  If you teach old stuff (which you probably do), there is a possibility that he did a plate for it.  You can see more of his work here:

Monday, December 12, 2016

Up on the House Top Sleipnir Hooves...

This post was originally posted in 2008 on a mythology blog I used to run called Bubo's Blog.  I felt it was time to show it again.  

Other titles for this blog could have been "Here Comes Odin Right Down Odin Lane!"

That's right.  It is that time of year again and time to get ready for Odin coming and giving presents and such.  Yes, I have probably lost it long ago, but no I'm not like Linus believing in the Great Pumpkin (well, maybe a little).  No, I'm referring to Odin's big Yule hunting party.

During Yule, Odin leads a large hunting party through the sky on his great eight-legged horse Sleipnir (a great story about Sleipnir's birth involves Loki, a randy horse, and the rest can wait for another time).  

Now Sleipnir can't fly (silly - only reindeer), but he can leap great distances (like the Hulk).  Children 

would leave their boots near the chimney.  They filled it with carrots, straw, and sugar so that Sleipnir would be able to eat.  Odin, touched by the children's kindness, would fill up the children's boots with sweets and gifts.

Happy Yule!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

English Teacher Holidays

Today is Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day!  I know all you Whovians out there are saying, "Who needs to pretend?"  In honor of this holiday, I present you with this six word novel by Alan Moore:

Machine.  Unexpectedly, I'd invented a time

Now, if you are interested in holidays that English teachers may enjoy (such as John Milton's birthday AND the Green Arrow's birthday - both tomorrow or Emily Dickenson's Birthday on Saturday (maybe celebrate with some of her famous gingerbread), then you may be interested in the calendar to the bottom right of this screen.  If you have a Google calendar, just hit the + sign and have it added to yours.  Each day I put the holiday of the day on the board.  Sometimes I even do something with it like read a poem on a poet's birthday.  Sometimes it gives students a laugh or they share something meaningful to them about it.  Of course, sometimes it goes unnoticed (we are talking about teenagers, after all).

There is always a reason to celebrate!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Feedback, Corrections, and a Question

Two years ago, I was working on a statewide project called the Governor's Teacher Network.  The idea is that we are picked because we have shown to be great teachers (they picked me anyway, so their methods must be a bit flawed) and they wanted these great teachers to create plans that could be put into a database for other teachers to pull from.

What would be the first thing you would do if you assembled teachers known for creating great lesson plans in order to create more lesson plans to be included on a state-wide database?

If you answered, "Let the teachers create plans for the database," you would be wrong.  The first thing you do is teach these teachers what they should be doing.  I sat through several workshops and webinars on how to be an effective teacher and some of the information is good, some of the information is common sense, and some is just educational jargon.  With that in mind, I want to point out the following quote which was thrown out a lot in our initial training:

Intensive correction, where the teacher marks every error in every paper a student writes, is completely useless. Marking all errors is no more advantageous in terms of student growth than marking none of them.

-Hillocks, 1986

Now, I just have a hard time believing that marks on a student paper is completely useless.  Personally, I remember marks that were put on my paper way back in my high school days.  Could it be that not making any marks is just as helpful as taking the time to show students what they did wrong?  Is the real statement more about making too many marks?  That's not how it was being taught in the webinar.  Surely more marks are still better than no marks.  Right?  How else is a student to grow if not being shown where they went wrong?

However, I am not so narrow minded as to not at least consider that I could be wrong.  I did date that girl in college that was really a poor decision on my part, so I could be wrong again.  I decided to find the source Hillocks, 1986.  It was a fruitless search.  There was no works cited page and when I searched for it on the Internet, I found several references to this same quote with the same APA citation, but no link to the original article.  I began to wonder if the article actually exists.

So, what do you think?  Take this poll:

Leave a comment if you have some elaboration upon it, agree with me, or know where the quote came from.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Miserable World of Prometheus

A little something for you mythology teachers out there -

There was a comic strip a while back called The Miserable World of Prometheus.  It was a newspaper strip and consisted of Prometheus being chained to his rock and having his liver ripped out by an eagle every day.  Here are a few examples:

Unfortunately, the creator, Mark Weinstein, ended the strip a while back, but not before putting the whole thing online.  You can read all of them here:

Friday, November 25, 2016

First Amendment Rights and the Classroom

I found this article and it is a good reminder to us about what the first amendment covers and, more importantly, does NOT cover when it comes to teachers and their classrooms.  We recently had a teacher dismissed in a nearby high school for political comments and lessons, so while the election season may be over, I feel that the concept is still timely.  The article is from the New York Post and is written by Lia Eustachewich.

Teacher Fired over Central Park 5 Lesson Isn’t Covered by 1st Amendment

A city teacher who claimed she was fired for giving her students a lesson on the Central Park Five case isn’t protected under the First Amendment — because she’s a public employee, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in tossing the lawsuit.

Jeena Lee-Walker, who taught at the High School for Arts on the Upper West Side, said her free speech rights were violated when her bosses chided her for teaching the controversial case to her ninth-grade English class.

Her assistant principal allegedly told her to take a more “balanced” approach to the issue because he felt black students might become “riled up,” the lawsuit says.

Lee-Walker pushed back but was eventually fired.

... There's more to this article, so read the whole thing at: and then leave a comment on your thoughts on the matter.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blogs Teachers May Enjoy

I have three blogs to share with you.  These are ones that you can use in class.  Maybe later I'll share some that only an English teacher would love.

Blog #1 - Daily Grammar

This blog has a daily grammar practice.  It is an excellent way to expose students to different grammar ideas in a short fashion.  Use as a warm up or short competition.

Blog #2 - Daily Dose of EOC

I was inspired by the Daily Grammar Blog to come up with my own daily question blog several years back.  Since, at the time, North Carolina had a state test for English I called the End of Course Test (EOC), I had several reading comprehension and grammar questions similar to the ones used by the state.  Over time, the state moved the EOC (and I moved along with it) to English II.  At that point I dropped all grammar related questions and modified the reading comprehension questions to be more in line with the new test.  I no longer teach English II, but I keep the questions going on a loop every semester and thankfully a few teachers put their students to the task of helping me create enough questions to actually make it a true daily blog.

The blog could use an upgrade on its looks.  I'll have to look in to that later.  However, there are fish you can feed on the blog!

Blog #3 - Daily Dose of MSL

Well, eventually I moved on to English IV where the state test was a bit different (plus I had several students that had me in English II and already had seen the other questions.  So, like an insane idiot, I started up another daily reading comprehension question blog.  This time with the other state reading test - The North Carolina MSLs.  Which later got changed to the North Carolina Common Exams.  Which later got changed to the North Carolina MSLs again.  Finally, and it seems they like this one, the North Carolina Final Exams.  These questions are similar in nature to the Daily EOC ones.  They all have short passages so that students can focus on the question type,but more importantly, I use it to break down how to answer a question by weeding out the ones we know are wrong.  This one hasn't quite reached the every day status, but it is slowly getting there.  I use these for the last two questions of our literary term pop quizzes.

So do you have any good daily blogs for classroom use?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Using Cheesy Video Games as Vocabulary Practice

Currently we are in list 6 of our vocabulary.  List 6 means that their practice isn't writing sentences or filling out blanks or anything remotely like that.  They get to not only play video games - they get to beat their teacher at them (and of course, talk trash when they do).

Here is their assignment:

What I did was use my list on a program that automatically creates several really awful (but so awful they become good again) old video game knock offs.  The web site is  You input your words and definitions and it will create awful games.  Like Manic Miner:

Word Shot:


and Cannonball:

So for the project, I played each game and came up with a score that I felt would make them work a bit.  Now they play the game and attempt to beat my score.  I allow them to play it as many times as they need.  Once they are happy with their score, they take a screen shot and paste it on to the Google presentation.  There are extra perks that come with being the highest of all the classes and I keep the game records on the web site so that they can get their high score recorded for all posterity.

Do I do this for every list?  No.  Will this be a ground breaking activity that makes all of your students into well rounded super vocabulary users?  No.

Will kid who would take a zero before doing a paper vocabulary activity bust his butt trying to beat me in all three games?  Yep. 

There are a couple of other sites like this that I will share later.  Do you have an interesting vocabulary practice that you use?  Be extreme and share it!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Help with MLA

Teaching students to document sources can a real pain sometimes, especially English I or low level students.  I have developed a method that is pretty easy to use.

First off, I must acknowledge that there are several online citation sites that will do the work for you.  Such as:

I don't really like any of those.  Why?  Well, for one, often they can be wrong.  Students who do not already understand what the point of the MLA or APA citation is do not know enough to make sure the online site is gathering the correct information.  Plus, I see too many teachers just push kids to those cites because the teacher doesn't know what they are doing and sees this as the easy way out. 

However, the process is not a difficult one and is easily taught with a little persistence.  Then, once you get students who really understand what is going on with the citation process, you steer them to the easy methods.  Much like you teach a kid basic math skills before you show them the easy route on the calculator.

Here's how I do it:
I go to our book room and I find several copies of a book with author.  I then find a bit fewer of another book with one author, and then a couple of a 3rd book with one author.  I pick ones that are easy to find the information on the title page (why be difficult when they are learning?).  Finally I will grab one book that I can use as an example.

On the day that I am teaching this concept, if I am teaching students that have never had to document sources before, I give them this silly following directions exercise.  This is to teach them about following directions when doing MLA.  It is not hard, it is different and sometimes frustrating, but you will only have to be able to follow directions in order to do it.  Then I explain why we have to learn MLA and then show them my source (holds up example book).  Then I hand each of them the practice sheet:
We go through each step on the board and I have them follow the directions to tell me how to write each step.  Then we write the whole MLA out making sure I show them what a reverse indent looks like.  Now, here is the fun part.  I give them each book #1 and tell them that they are about get three grades.  If they complete book #1 and get EVERYTHING correct - every little period, capital letter, etc., then they will get a 100 for attempt #1, #2, and #3 and they are done.  They have shown mastery.  However, if any little bit is imperfect, I will take off five points for each error (it doesn't matter if they messed up on the top portion but got it correct on the bottom portion - MLA is all about following directions, you know).  Then they will need to go and pick up the second book and try again.  Mastery for the second book gives them a 100 for try #2 and #3 and they are finished.  Mistakes give them a third try.

Whenever a student does well, I praise them overly for such a perfect paper, a wonderful job, being a terrific student, yada yada yada. The next day I give them the same project with the web page practice sheet.  Students have different reactions to this assignment, usually depending on how many times they need to go back.  I can tell you from experience that every student that has to do it more than once is super careful when writing the MLA for their research project.  

For their project, I give them the MLA Bliss Sheet so that they have a guide 

While I am sharing, here is my page for my students for their 12th grade research paper.  It is mostly geared for regular level students.  When I taught honors many years ago, we did literary analysis.

Here is the 10th grade social injustice paper requirements.  For ninth grade I have them do an annotated bibliography and a small one page paper just to get their feet wet.  It's been so long since I've done 11th grade that I do not have whatever I did with them.

So does anyone have a better method?  Strong feelings for the automated sites?  Leave a comment!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Grade Analysis

In the past, my school used to require teachers fill out a Personal Education Plan for each student that was making a D or lower and then we would follow up by then having a conference with that student and giving them a PEP talk.  Now the idea behind it was that we were attempting to show these kids what was going wrong and then convince them to do what was necessary to fix the problem.

More often, it was just another thing a teacher could say they did in to help a student when there was a parent conference when the student failed the class.  


You may have something similar.  If yours is a good one, keep with it!  If not, then think about going to a grade analysis.  I created this because I felt if I was going to have to spend time on a document, I wanted it to be time well spent.

Here is what you will need:
  • about half a class period
  • a grade analysis sheet
  • student progress report
I do this the first day of the second quarter (or fourth quarter in the second semester).

First, have the kids think of the grade that they want in the class. Have them figure out a number. While they are doing that, return to them their grades from the previous quarter.  They are going to figure out what grade they need to get on the second quarter to balance the scales and get the average they want then analysis their own behavior and actions to figure out what, if anything, needs to change.

Then I give them this sheet: Grade Analysis Sheet. You are welcome to make a copy if it and modify it to fit your needs.

The biggest thing here is showing them what it takes to get the grade they want.  I tell them:

If the grade you want is the same as the grade you got first quarter, then the grade you need to make is the same.  For example - I want an 80.  I made an 80.  I need to make an 80 this quarter.

If the grade you want is higher than the grade you got first quarter, subtract first quarter's grade from the grade you want.  Take that difference and add it to the grade you want.  This is the grade you need to get next quarter.  For example - I want an 80.  I have a 68.  80 - 68 = 12.  12 + 80 = 92.  This is the grade I need to make on the second quarter.

If the grade you want is lower than the grade you got first quarter, subtract the grade you want from the grade you got first quarter.  Then subtract that difference from the grade you want.  For example: I want a 60.  I have a 66.  66 - 60 = 6.  60 - 6 = 54.  This is the grade I must get second quarter.

Be warned, there will be students that have 64 and think that if they work hard they can still pull out an A or a B for the year.  This will show them that it is not possible,  I walk around and check their math and when I see that a student needs to make a 110 to get their grade, I tell them that since this is no longer possible, let's figure out what we CAN get.  

I have found that that this, while a bit heartbreaking for some (although great news for the kid with the 94 who is figuring out for fun how low they can go and still pass the class), if helpful in the long run.  It is awful when a kid works harder and is still failing or falling short of what they want to get and they do not understand why.

But wait! (you ask) What about the FINAL EXAM / STATE TEST?

Well, that certainly needs to factor in, but folks, I'm and EXTREME ENGLISH TEACHER, not an extreme math teacher.   That's figuring out two variables and that is one too many for me. However, most of the time, a student's final grade will not deviate too much from the two quarter grades.  Your grade breakdowns may be different than ours - 40% 1st quarter, 40% 2nd quarter, 20% exam, but it is probably similar.  Chances are that a student will score somewhere in the vicinity of the average of their two quarter grades.  Students rarely (although occasionally do) move their grade more than 3 points (5 max) with the exam.  I tell them this and I tell them that we will prepare for the state test.  This is something that they cannot worry about now as it is out of their control.  I then tell them to be safe, they should consider adding 3-5 points to their target 2nd quarter grade.

I then send it home to the parents to check over.  This way everyone concerned knows what the student needs to make to pass (or make that B or C or whatever they want).

How about you?  Do you have a better method?  If so, I'd love to hear it!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween - How to Detect a Werewolf

Life lesson #247 (although in my opinion it should be in the top 100): Stay away from lycanthropes (werewolves for the lesser informed).

But how can you tell? Here are some tricks of the trade to those of you would-be werewolf hunters in identifying werewolves in their people form:

1. The unibrow - this is a sure fire way to tell. Look out for those who shave the middle part.

2. Fur on the inside of their skin - a bit harder to tell. A Roman platoon suspected one of their own as a werewolf and used this technique to discover the truth. After they ripped his skin off and found no fur, well, he was forgiven.

3. Forget the whole moon thing - that was added in movies. True werewolves do not have to wait for the moon.

4. The ring finger - is longer than the middle finger.

5. Excessive thirst - maybe coming for the idea that dogs and wolves pant because they are always thirsty.

6. Obsession with walking through graveyards - I bet Poe was one. He even proposed to a woman in the graveyard.

7. Foul smell - werewolves have extra seat glands. Be alert for a smell of hay and horse manure.

8. Check the pee pee - yep, werewolves have urine that is a deep purple.

9. The Mark of the Werewolf - the dead give away. If someone has a pentagon on their palm, break out the silver weapons IMMEDIATELY!

10. Shoot him/her with a silver bullet - if he/she dies, probably a werewolf.

Side note, if you are out of silver weapons (and in today's economy, who has extra cash to buy silver?) and are being chased by a werewolf, always drop things. Werewolves must stop and pick them up before continuing the chase. Can anyone say, OCD?

As a teacher, I always feel that knowledge is the first weapon to use.  So let's start with a few basic terms.  Like zoanthropy.  This is merely the generic word of the disease that curses man to turn into animals.  There is also the term therianthropy, which means the same thing.

The most popular of the zoanthropes are lycanthropes (werewolves).

But what about the other, lesser known zoanthropes?

Like the boanthrope?  The dreaded Werecow?

Yes the term existed before Phinease and Ferb's cartoon.
Or what about a kuanthrope?  A weredog!

I bet he gets picked on by his wolf friends, but on the bright side, he can get his own dog treats whenever he wants them.
Of course, you can't forget hippanthropes, those werehorses that haunt your scariest nightmares.

So, what other official names of these zoanthropes are there that you've heard of?  Knowledge is power, my friends.  Knowledge is power.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Who Is the Third Murderer? - The Most Awesome Answer Ever

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth hires two murderers to kill Banquo; however, three murderers show up to the scene.  The original two even make a note of it by asking this third interloper who sent him?  The answer that he was sent by Macbeth himself has a few flaws.

It would seem that Shakespeare meant to do something with this third guy, but never got around to fleshing it out, leaving English teacher geeks around the globe speculating here and there.  This third murderer recognizes Banquo, understands his habits around Macbeth's stables, and was able to give at least some of the original plan to the other two murderers so that they would accept him.  Yet he doesn't seem to know all of the plan since he was unaware of the light going out, and as a result, the main target got away.

You can find some more awesome images from Macbeth (including some really freaky looking witches) by going to the artist's (Amy Hood) web site.
So in my class of regular level students, I use this as an opportunity to get them to think deeper.  They find the clues and facts, list off everyone who could have been the murderer, and then find evidence to support their favorite suspect.  We get into a discussion over what the third murderer's motive was - to help kill Banquo and Fleance or to help Banquo and'or Fleance get away.

I tell them that on their test, they are going to have to accuse one character and then defend their statement.  We joked this year about people putting down Banquo as the murderer - a major feat since he was the one being killed at the time.

One student took this as a challenge and on the test stapled an extra sheet so that he would have enough space to properly accuse Banquo for being the third murderer of Banquo.  Here is his answer:

Banquo.  Banquo fakes his death in a simple process.  He knew from the witches that his child would be king and not Macbeth's children.  He knew that Macbeth was willing to kill to be king.  When Macbeth became king, Banquo knew it was only a matter of time before Macbeth would kill him. Banquo then got body doubles of himself and his son and sent his son out of Scotland.  when he heard of suspicious people meeting with the king, he knew it was time, and trailed the two murderers.  He declared his double to be himself so that the others wouldn't think.  When his son's double got away and met with Banquo for payment, Banquo killed him to tie up loose ends.  I believe that after the play ended, Banquo got his son to take over Scotland and then ruled through the shadows.

Flawed?  Sure, but he was so excited to prove that I was wrong when I said that Banquo COULDN'T be the third murderer.  It's not often that you get a regular level student to get this passionate about a test answer.  I'm sure you honors and AP teachers get this sort of crazy stuff all the time.

This same kid followed up this response with the answer to this question:
Who is most at fault for what has happened in this play?

King James I.  Shakespeare wrote this play because of the big stink James made about a supposed "witch" visiting him.  If he had stayed calm and not made a big deal out of it, this play would never have been written.

Folks, it's hard to argue with this kind of logic.  :)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jack's Lament

If you have not seen the movie Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton, you really should.  It is not a great movie for little kids, but excellent for middle school age children and older.  I'm not suggesting this as a movie to watch in class, just if you have children at home.  As far as class goes, there is a particular song in it that is useful for instruction: "Jack's Lament."

A quick bit of background information for those who have never seen the movie. Jack Skellington (pictured to the left) is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town (every holiday has their own town).  He has just had another successful Halloween.  He has, once again, won all the praise of the inhabitants of Halloween Town.  And he is bored out of his mind.  This is the song he sings to express how unhappy he is, even though everything is going great.

Why show this song clip in your class?  To teach allusion. There are several examples and depending on the level of student that you have, they should be able to pick out most.

Here they are in order as they appear in the song:

  1. Sally, the rag golem is an allusion to Frankenstein's monster.  Students might be able to figure that out from the stitch marks.
  2. He is walking through a pet cemetery (Stephen King's Pet Cemetery).
  3. Zero the ghost dog - easy Rudolf allusion
  4. There is a grave stone figure that looks like Mushu from Mulan.  If students make that connection, that's great.  However, The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993 and Mulan came out in 1998, so no true allusion there.
  5. The horse head tombstone is actually an allusion/pun.  It looks like the chess piece knight.  Use the homophone reference for night.
  6. You have two versions of the Scream painting by Edvard Muench.  One tombstone looks similar to the painting and the other looks similar to the Halloween mask designed after the painting.  To really drive it home, he even says that he, "grows so weary of the sound of screams," at the same time that he drapes his arm around one of the tombstones.  Students might recognize the tombstone from the movie Scream, which has a mask based on the same painting.
  7. He calls himself Jack, the Pumpkin King.  Maybe an allusion or at least a play on the idea of a Jack o' lantern?
  8. As Jack stands in front of the moon, it is a reference back to Tim Burton's Batman, when the batwing flies in front of the moon for a special visual effect.
  9. And of course, the Hamlet allusion as he takes off his skull and holds it to recite "Shakespearean quotations."
O.K., did I miss any?  I feel like I did.  If you notice any more, please leave a comment so that I can add it to the list.  I'll give you full credit!

If you have the movie, you'll find this song starting at about 6:10 and ending at 9:45.  If you don't, here is a You Tube version:

You can find the lyrics here if you would like to do a lesson on assonance.  every second and fourth line of each stanza uses assonance to fake the rhyme.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Scream

You are probably well aware of the painting The Scream, but you may not be as familiar with the poem that goes with it.  Edvard Munch, the painter, wrote this poem to attempt to express what he felt the painting was about:

The Scream

I was walking along a road with two friends –
the sun was setting –
I seemed to sense a breath of melancholy –
suddenly the sky turned blood-red –
I paused and leaned against the fence, feeling utterly exhausted –
and looked out over clouds like blood and swords, the
bluish-black fjord and the city –
My friends walked on –
I stood there quivering with fear –
and I felt a great, endless scream passing through nature.

To go along with this, I created a few reading comprehension questions.  The original intent for this was ninth grade regular level.  Two of the questions as a student to make his/her best guess on the meaning of a word.  Often this making a student put down a guess is the first step in getting a student to get the answer right.

Here are the reading comprehension questions I used:

1. What time of day is it in this poem?

2. In the third line, the word “melancholy” is used. What do you think that means (just take your best guess)?

3. Now look up “melancholy” ( and write the definition here.

4. The phrase, “clouds like blood and swords” is an example of two literary terms. Write both of them here:

5. In line 8 the word “quivering” is used. What do you think it means (take your best guess)?

6. Look up “quivering” (try this time). What does the word mean?

7. How many sentences is this poem?

8. Why do YOU think he is screaming?

Or, if you want, you can just use this Google Doc.  If you want to make any changes, all you need to do is make a copy.  If you've got some better questions (I created this a looooong time ago and it could use some more revamping), put them in the comments.  I might change my original.

Since it is a short activity, it is a good one to have in reserve for when a lesson ends too soon or you need something for the students to work on while waiting for everyone to finish a test.

Just for fun, here is an ad for when M&M's released their new dark chocolate M&M's:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Everybody Dies

Check out this poster created by Caitlin Griffin:

You can buy it from the National Theatre Shop in London by going to this link:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Spider-Man Unmasked!

Here is a great creative writing prompt to get kids pushing their thoughts a bit.  You do not need to be a comic book fan to participate (although if you are, there is that much more interest in it).  All you need is the ability to think divergently.

Show students this cover:

Now, supposing that everything shown on the cover is true for the story inside, how could this happen and Peter Parker still keep his identity secret?  We have these characters on the cover:

  • Dr. Octopus - his four extra mechanical arms are just as strong as Spider-Man and allows him to reach far away.
  • Peter Parker - the true identity of Spider-Man.  He has the strength, speed, and agility of a spider and has a nifty spider-sense that warns him of danger (which didn't help as the cover shows).
  • Four random police officers
  • Betty Brant - she is a secretary for the newspaper The Daily Bugle and Peter Parker's girlfriend at the time of this comic.
  • J. Jonah Jameson - a newspaper editor who hates Spider-Man with a passion.
Let students write out how Peter Parker is able to keep his identity secret even though seven people clearly see him unmasked.  Give prizes to the most creative and the closest to the original.

So what is the real story?

Peter Parker has a cold, so he has lost all his spider powers.  Doc Ock, however, wants revenge on Spider-Man.  He notices that the Daily Bugle seems to get all the press on Spider-Man, so he breaks into their building, tells the editor, J. Jonah Jameson, that he will print a challenge to Spider-Man to meet him at a certain location.  He then kidnaps Jameson's secretary to insure that it gets done.  Peter Parker, fearful for his girlfriend's safety, dons his Spidey suit and goes after Doc Ock, even though he doesn't have his powers anymore.  Doc Ock beats him easily and unmasks him.  When he sees it is a teenager, he exclaims that the real Spider-Man is too scared to fight him and sent this kid in his place.  Figuring that was why Spider-Man's punches were so weak and why he was so easily beaten, Doc Ock throws Peter to the ground and leaves.  Betty and Jameson both think that Peter is quite the hero, albeit rather stupid, and the police, after toying with what to charge Peter with, finally leave them alone.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Defense for the Zero Grade

For quite a while now, there has been a movement to explore grade reform and in most of the reform movements I've seen, getting rid of the zero grade is usually one of ideas.  People cite several reasons for this, but mostly it is because the zero is so far off the ten point grade scale that it has an exaggerated impact. An article that sums up the mathematical fallacies that is referenced quite often is Douglas Reeves's "The Case Against Zero".

However, I think the zero grade has merit and the typically the exaggerated impact is largely misrepresented. However - I want to be clear - when used incorrectly, the zero is a bad way to grade. The problem comes in that people who are against the use of this grade assume ALL teachers use this grade incorrectly.  Maybe that's because they were using the grade incorrectly before they came to change their opinion and figure that the rest of us must be doing the same.

Let's take a minute to rebut the arguments:

1. The Zero is a NOT punishment grade.  Well, I'll back up a bit.  It is.  But for that matter, so is a 60,  a 70, an 80, and even a 99 (give an honors student less than a 100 and watch the whining begin).  Every time you take a point off, you are doing it as a punishment for not being 100% correct.  There are some right now arguing that I'm wrong here because 96% grade is a grade that reflects how much the student has mastered that content.  Well, a 0% does the same thing.  To a student, every point marked off is a punishment for not getting everything correct.  I read somewhere a teacher saying that they feel guilty because sometimes they enjoy giving a particular student a zero.  My response to that is that is between you and your conscious.  I don't get joy in giving a student a zero any more than I worry that I gave out too many 100s on an assignment.  I would say that if you are giving students zeros for assignments that do not reflect the content (i.e. not turning in a signed progress report) then that does enter the range of punishments.  A zero because a student chose not to do an assignment is not a punishment any more than me not getting paid for a job I didn't do.

2. The F grade being overly weighted is NOT a bad idea.  Let's take the 10-point scale.  The argument is that there are only 41 points in the A-D grades, yet there are 60 points in the failing category (counting for the 0 and the 100).  This is touted as a bad thing.  However, when we alter the scale to a 4 or 5 point ratio, we are saying the opposite and over weighing the pass category.  The fail category is so large because we do not want people in society to only know 10%, 20%, or even 50% of their job.  In life, it is often a mastery or fail scenario.  I do not want a person painting my house that only knows 60% of how to do it properly.  I do not want a person representing me in court for a traffic violation that only knows 40% of the law.  I do not want someone fixing my food that only knows 70% of the cleaning policy.  They guy working on my car better be 100% certain on how to put those brakes back together.  The reason why 60% of the grade is failing is because that is not nearly good enough for ANY job.

3. Two or three zeroes should NOT fail a kid for a semester.  This is where the real problem comes in.  The examples that I see time and time again are using a small collection of grades to prove their point.  A former principal of mine (many, many years ago) used the example of ten grades where 6 of them are 100, two are 80, and two of them are 0 that this pulls the kid to a D (we were in a seven point scale at that time) even though the student has obviously shown mastery by their eight high grades.  My counter is, who only gives ten grades a semester in a high school setting?   If your grading system allows a student to drop 10, 20 points for one assignment, then the problem is you, not the zero.  I give 40 plus grades a semester.  You know what two zeros do?  Very little.  At this point you should be giving them lots of practice.  The more grades you have, the more solid that grade is a reflection of what that kid has learned and mastered.  I've seen from my own children's grades teachers who don't pay attention.  My son had a high A in his band class in middle school.  They took one quiz.  ONE QUIZ.  Because the teacher didn't realize that there was only one grade in the quiz average, he failed to notice that this one quiz was now worth 40% of the final grade.  My son was absent on the day of the quiz and did not make it up (he says he asked the teacher for what he missed that day and was given a worksheet only).  When this teacher finally put in the grades for the report card, our son's grade went from an A to a D.  That's a reflection on this teacher's poor grading policy - not a reflection on the zero grade.


1. Understand its power as a motivator - Not all students find value in a grade, but many do. Teachers need to use all tools at their disposal to get each student to care about what is being taught in the class.  When I input a zero for a missed assignment, I frequently get emails from students and parents on what can be done to make it up.

2. Keep your grade book up to date as much as possible - O.K., research papers are going to take time to grade, but all of those quizzes, crosswords, vocabulary practices, etc. need to be put in as soon as possible.  Students and parents need to be able to see their grade evolve.  Students have very little understanding about how their grade works.  By giving them up to the week updates, you are enabling them to take more responsibility for their actions. Don't have an online grade book that parents can see?  Print out reports or at least call the students up to your desk so that they can see the grade.  Teachers who wait until the last week to get their grades in cannot blame a zero for it's weighty effect.  It is also hypocritical to penalize a student for turning in something late when the teacher cannot get the grade out in a timely manner.

3. Take make up work - The zero is best used as a motivator to get an assignment turned in. This only works if the assignment can still be turned in.  When I put in the zero for a missing grammar practice, I'm not telling the student, "Ha, ha - you're going to pay for it now!" I'm telling the student, "This is the impact on your grade if you do not get this done."  At that point, all the responsibility falls upon the kid.  Some teachers want to say that taking late work doesn't teach responsibility for their actions, but I say otherwise.  Teenagers are going to make mistakes.  That's a fact of life.  Even the most mature 17 year old student is going to forget an assignment due date.  Giving the student a chance to make up that error teaches them to fix bad situations that they are going to find themselves in in life.  Plus, are you in the business of teaching unyielding responsibility or literature?  If the kid turns in the practice late, but learns the literary concept I was attempting to teach, well, I would say I have accomplished my job.

4. Provide alternate assignments - What about the assignment that just can't be accepted late?  Sometimes I do not take an assignment late because we've moved on at that point.  In my class I have several Deus ex Machina assignments.  Just like a deus ex machina in a story helps the character out of an impossible situation, these assignments, which tend to be more difficult than the typical class activity, still teach a concept I want the student to learn and can be used to replace a low grade (including a zero).  Now that we are on block schedule, there are some concepts that I would like to teacher but just do not have the time to do so.  They tend to get turned into these types of assignments.  So a student is not required to be stuck with that one mistake.

5. Give a lot of assignments - I already discussed this above, but it bears repeating.  One assignment is a poor indicator of mastery.  There are so many things going on that could affect that grade from luck to boyfriend/girlfriend problems to teenage angst.  Multiple chances not only provides more practice (practice makes perfect, after all), it keeps the grade stable so when the student does have a bad day, it doesn't overly impact them.  One zero out of ten grades will bring the grade down 10 points.  One zero out of fifty grades barely makes a dent.

After doing these things, if a student has a zero in your class, then they are choosing to take it.  They have all the opportunity in the world to get it fixed.  Does it require a little extra work from you? A bit.  But hey, that's why we get paid the big bucks.

Against the zero? If you see flaws in my defense, I would love to hear it.  I am open minded (most times) and never shy away from someone who has a different world view than I do.  I also freely admit that teaching is not one size fits all and what works for me may not work for the teacher down the hall.

Agree with me?  Let me know (it's nice not being a lone voice in the wilderness).  What practices in your classroom did I not account for here?

UPDATE: I just read "Grading for Mastery", a blog post by Caitlin Tucker.  While I still am not sold on the 4 point scale, I do like one suggestion that she made.  She doesn't do her grades in categories such as Classwork, Quizzes, Tests, but rather by skill - Grammar, Argumentative Writing, Vocabulary, etc.  I find this approach intriguing and will consider changing up the way I do categories for next semester.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Eclipse Crossword

If you have not found Eclipse Crossword, you need to.

It is a crossword maker that is easy to use and free.  There are no ads, no spam, nothing.  It is completely customizable and it leaves you wondering, "How can this be free?"

Just go to

*WARNING* If you've bought a crossword maker program - do NOT go to the Eclipse Crossword web site.  You will curse yourself for wasting money.

Let's take a moment to review it's features:

  • Free
  • Allows you to use your words
  • Allows you to save your word lists to access easier in the future
  • With a mere click of a button, it will create a new lay out.  I will create ten or more crossword puzzles for each class.  Sure, the clues are the same, but students are forced to at least read the clue before cheating and finding the answer from a friend, which is the whole intent of assigning the puzzle to begin with - to make the students read the clues and attach a word to it.
  • You can tell it to print out a variety of formats - Empty puzzle grid, word bank, clues, answer key, and a list of clues with answers (I like this last feature - just the other day I had a student who lost their notebook and with it, their vocabulary lists so I just printed this up and viola!  She had all the words and all the definitions and it took me less than one minute).
  • You can save it as a webpage both static for printing and interactive for completing online (see an example of it from my class web site here).
  • You can even save it in a format that allows you to open it in Microsoft Word (fun for making the border look nice).
Plus, It's an easy to create assignment for when you have a sub or a review session.   You also do not need an account nor do you need to have your students create an account to use it.

No, I do not work for them nor do I know anyone there.  I found it several years ago and have used it often.  What a great program!

Grade for Eclipse Crossword . . .    A+

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Funnies #2

We all need a laugh once in a while.  Read this from The Onion and while you're smiling, reflect on how true this really is...


LINCOLN, NE—Slowly shaking his head as he watched the wide-eyed young educator arrive early for her first day of work, Southwest Senior High principal Jeff Harker remarked to reporters he could already tell that the school’s 10th-grade class would eat new history teacher Rebecca Bray alive. “The second I saw how excited she was to have her own classroom, I just knew that she was immediately going to be ripped into and gutted by those snarling little monsters,” Harker said of the enthusiastic 25-year-old woman currently making handwritten name tags for the rabid beasts who will “tear her apart and leave her for dead” within a week....  Read the whole article

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Grammar Ninja

There is a game on the Internet that might be fun to use in your class called
Grammar Ninja

The game was created by Greg Lieberman and can be found here:

There are three levels to try - Beginner, Skilled, and Master.  The basis of the game is simple part of speech recognition.  The students are given a sentence and told to find a certain part of speech.  Lieberman is even nice enough to give the number in that sentence and provides a ? box that gives a definition of what that part of speech does.  Students find the part of speech by throwing ninja stars at it.

Since they are in training to be ninjas, they must be fast, so the score is their time (plus 5 seconds for each wrong answer).

A complaint might be that the sentences stay the same, but to counter that, Lieberman has the part of speech change each time you run through the game.  The other complaint I've had from students is that it doesn't count pronouns as nouns.

Ways to incorporate it in the classroom?

1. As a grade - Make the assignment where you break down the time as a grade (for example, the time above may rate anywhere from a C to a D- or an F depending on the level of your students.  Allow students to play it as many times as they want to get the time they desire.  Then students can send you a screen shot or just bring their laptop to you.

2. As a distraction - Not going to be present and you are concerned that you haven't given enough work to keep them busy, but are hesitant to give a busy work worksheet or you need something to keep the students busy while you conference with students or give time for students to make up work.  Set a challenge time and then offer some reward for those bright enough to meet the challenge.

3. As a class game - put this bad boy up on the SmartBoard (or whatever your device brand is) and let students come up for a challenge.

Why let all the students have the fun?  I'm challenging you on the Master Level to beat my time:

We'll have to use the honor system here since I do not believe the comments section allows pictures, but remember - God, Santa, and Big Brother are watching!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Presidential Debates

I aware that I am a bit late in suggesting this lesson idea, but there are still three debates after tonight, so I'll throw it out there anyway.

English curriculum has communication as a component.  Every four years we are privy to two individuals who are using communication skills to obtain the position of the most powerful person in the world.

To pass up a teaching opportunity like that seems wasteful.  So I created this debate chart:

This chart can be downloaded here.

My students are lower level, so their observation of communication skills are a bit limited.  This chart is a scratch-the-surface look at the debates that has them consider if the candidate stayed focused on the questions asked, how often they fumbled for words, distracting body gestures, and their tone of voice.  I find it pretty effective.  If I taught honors, I'd have to ramp up the chart quite a bit.

Note that although I am an EXTREME English teacher, I am not a STUPID English teacher and I will not be jeopardizing my career over a political stance.  I coach my students in no way about which political opinion they should have and on the day after the debate, I allow them a chance to talk about what they noticed (specifically communication skills, but I allow political viewpoints in as well).  I occasionally play devil's advocate, but when I do, I make sure I do it equally on both sides.  My suggestion is that you do so as well.  Every four years the news gets full of articles on school boards having to investigate teachers in violation of their political stance policy, and if you are busy defending yourself to the school board, you can't focus on being awesome in the classroom.

I also sometimes share this link with them:

It is the best political survey that I have seen to really help someone see which candidate actually aligns their their political views.  It not only offers a Yes or No answer, but it has a choice of OTHER STANCE which allows for a yes, but... or a no, however.... type answer.  It also allows you to weigh the view as stronger or weaker than others.

It is very interesting to give this survey to ninth and tenth graders since their political view is usually aligned with their parents, but they sometimes find out that they agree with the opposite party more.  I've given this assignment for extra credit before:

So what about you?  Do you use any political activities in your class?