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!