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?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Banned Book Week of 2016 is Next Week!

When my librarian was new to the school, she had created all sorts of activities around banned books.  Thinking I was being funny, I told her I had a great idea too.  We could put a large trash barrel in the courtyard of the school and set it on fire and students could throw books in it as they went to class to celebrate the week.  I don't think I need to say that that particular joke did not go over well.  We've more than made up since then and she brings it up to me every year on this week.

So, the best way to gear up for it is to understand the terms and the see the books that are on the list.  Some students will pick up a book just because it was on The List.

Here is a list of top ten banned or challenged books in 2015 according to the ALA:

10. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan - Why? Homosexuality and condones public displays of affection.

9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter - Why? Violence, age group suitability, and religious viewpoints.

8. Habibi by Craig Thompson - Why? age group suitability, nudity, and sexually explicit  (this is the one of two graphic novel on the list)

7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel - Why? violence and graphic images (this is the other graphic novel on the list)

6. The Holy Bible - Why? religious viewpoint (well, duh...)

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon - Why? offensive language, religious viewpoint, age suitability   Holy moly!  I'm currently teaching this book!  I better drop it fast!  

4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin - Why? anti-family, offensive language, political viewpoint, age suitability, religious viewpoint, sex education, homosexuality

3. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings - Why? homosexuality, in accurate, sex education, religious viewpoints, age suitability

2. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James - Why?  Do you really need to ask for this one?  sexually explicit, age suitability, poorly written

And the number one book - the one that beat out Fifty Shades of Grey - is....

1. Looking for Alaska by John Green - Why? offensive language, sexually explicit, and age suitability

Curious about other years?  
2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001

Now, to be fair, the lists now tend to contained challenged books as well as banned books.  This is a point of contention brought up in Banned Book Week Is a Crock! and the point is a good one, so I suggest you take a look at it.  

Common Sense Media has a fun list of the most challenged books for kids and teens.  I teach quite a few on this list:
Frequently Challenged Books for Kids & Teens

Other links about this week:

Freedom To Read Foundation

Google Books - Explore Banned Books

American Library Association - Banned Books Week

25 Awesome Quotes from Banned and Challenged Books

American Library Association

NCTE Banned Books Website

Banned Websites Awareness Day

Banned Book Week Twitter Page

I've been lucky to never have a book challenged in my classroom, but I know other teachers that have.  Have you?  Which book?  

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Glove Cleaner

Here's a great thinking skills lesson.  Just have the students read this aloud and ask them one question.  I suggest that highlight the speaking parts of the young man, old man, and narrator and have them read it as a play.

The one question?  What is the glove cleaner?  I think that while you find the answer quite obvious from your life experiences, your students, however, will really struggle with it.

You can use this to point out that the real clues are in the parts that do not seem to relevant to the story.  This is a skill that we, as lovers of reading, already know, but many students do not.

The Chaser By John Collier
Alan Austen, as nervous as a kitten, went up certain dark and creaky stairs in the neighborhood of Pell Street, and peered for a long time on the landing before he found the name he wanted written obscurely on one of the doors.
He pushed open this door, as he had been told to do, and found himself in a tiny room, which contained no furniture but a plain kitchen table, a rocking-chair, and an ordinary chair.  On one of the dirty buff-coloured walls were a couple of shelves, containing in all perhaps a dozen bottles and jars.  An old man sat in the rocking-chair, reading a newspaper.  Alan, without a word, handed him the card he had been given.
"Sit down, Mr. Austen," said the old man very politely.  "I am glad to make your acquaintance."
"Is it true," asked Alan, "that you have a certain mixture that has – er – quite extraordinary effects?"
"My dear sir," replied the old man, "my stock in trade is not very large – I don't deal in laxatives and teething mixtures – but such as it is, it is varied. I think nothing I sell has effects which could be precisely described as ordinary."
"Well, the fact is. . ." began Alan.
"Here, for example," interrupted the old man, reaching for a bottle from the shelf. "Here is a liquid as colourless as water, almost tasteless, quite imperceptible in coffee, wine, or any other beverage. It is also quite imperceptible to any known method of autopsy."
"Do you mean it is a poison?" cried Alan, very much horrified.
"Call it a glove-cleaner if you like," said the old man indifferently. "Maybe it will clean gloves. I have never tried. One might call it a life-cleaner. Lives need cleaning sometimes."
"I want nothing of that sort," said Alan.
"Probably it is just as well," said the old man. "Do you know the price of this? For one teaspoonful, which is sufficient, I ask five thousand dollars.  Never less.  Not a penny less."
"I hope all your mixtures are not as expensive," said Alan apprehensively.
"Oh dear, no," said the old man.  "It would be no good charging that price for a love potion, for example. Young people who need a love potion seldom have five thousand dollars. Otherwise they wouldn’t need a love potion."
"I am glad to hear that," said Alan.
"I look at it like this," said the old man.  "Please a customer with one article, and he will come back when he needs another.  Even if it is more costly.  He will save up for it, if necessary."
"So," said Alan, "you really do sell love potions?"
"If I did not sell love potions," said the old man, reaching for another bottle, "I should not have mentioned the other matter to you.  It is only when one is in a position to oblige that one can afford to be so confidential."
"And these potions," said Alan.  "They are not just – just – er – ”    
"Oh, no," said the old man.  "Their effects are permanent, and extend far beyond the mere casual impulse.  But they include it.  Oh, yes they include it.  Bountifully, insistently.  Everlastingly."
"Dear me!" said Alan, attempting a look of scientific detachment.  "How very interesting!"
"But consider the spiritual side," said the old man.
"I do, indeed," said Alan.
"For indifference," said the old man, “they substitute devotion.  For scorn, adoration.  Give one tiny measure of this to the young lady – its flavour is imperceptible in orange juice, soup, or cocktails – and however gay and giddy she is, she will change altogether.  She will want nothing but solitude and you."
"I can hardly believe it," said Alan.  "She is so fond of parties."
"She will not like them anymore," said the old man.  "She will be afraid of the pretty girls you may meet."
"She will actually be jealous?" cried Alan in a rapture.  "Of me?"
"Yes, she will want to be everything to you."
"She is, already.  Only she doesn't care about it."
"She will, when she has taken this.  She will care intensely.  You will be her sole interest in life."
"Wonderful!" cried Alan.
"She will want to know all you do," said the old man.  "All that has happened to you during the day.  Every word of it.  She will want to know what you are thinking about, why you smile suddenly, why you are looking sad."
"That is love!" cried Alan.
"Yes," said the old man.  "How carefully she will look after you! She will never allow you to be tired, to sit in a draught, to neglect your food.  If you are an hour late, she will be terrified.  She will think you are killed, or that some siren has caught you."
"I can hardly imagine Diana like that!" cried Alan, overwhelmed with joy.
"You will not have to use your imagination," said the old man.  "And, by the way, since there are always sirens, if by any chance you should, later on, slip a little, you need not worry.  She will forgive you, in the end.  She will be terribly hurt, of course, but she will forgive you – in the end."
"That will not happen," said Alan fervently.
"Of course not," said the old man.  "But, if it did, you need not worry. She would never divorce you.  Oh, no!  And, of course, she will never give you the least, the very least, grounds for – uneasiness."
"And how much," said Alan, "is this wonderful mixture?"
"It is not as dear," said the old man, "as the glove-cleaner, or life-cleaner, as I sometimes call it.  No.  That is five thousand dollars, never a penny less.  One has to be older than you are, to indulge in that sort of thing.  One has to save up for it."
"But the love potion?" said Alan.
"Oh, that," said the old man, opening the drawer in the kitchen table, and taking out a tiny, rather dirty-looking phial.  "That is just a dollar."
"I can't tell you how grateful I am," said Alan, watching him fill it.
"I like to oblige," said the old man.  "Then customers come back, later in life, when they are better off, and want more expensive things.  Here you are.  You will find it very effective."
"Thank you again," said Alan.  "Good-bye."
"Au revoir," said the man.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What Do You See Here?

Look at the photo below:

What do you see?

O.K., besides blurred out faces and one kid who is blatantly violating the no food rule at our school and the fact that this is a small class.  I only captured half of them and this is by far the lowest number of students in any of my classes this year.

They are all writing.  Let me assure you that these kids HATE writing.  They are not taking notes.  They are not answering questions.  They are writing creatively.  To make matters even stranger, they are enjoying it AND not complaining!

I added a new bit to my introduction for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  This is an excellent book and if you have not read it, I suggest that you go out and do that as soon as you get out of school today.  The new bit was a writing activity.  It's not a particularly inventive idea either.  I gave them this line:

It was seven minutes after midnight.

They wrote that on their paper.  I then explained that often when I ask students to write a story, they stare at the paper and delay starting because they want to think it out a bit.  I told them that in this case, we didn't have the time for that.  They had to write what happens next even if they didn't know what happened next.  The only thing that was wrong was not writing.  Then I looked at my watch and said, "Go!"  Most started right away.  Some needed a little prompting.  I was expecting it to be a struggle.  Did I mention these kids HATE writing?

After a little time (enough for most of them to get about five lines or so), I yell, "Stop!"  They then folded their paper over so that only the last line could be read.  Then they passed their paper to the person behind them.  With only being able to read the last line, I told them to pick up that story and add some pizzazz to it.  We did this about five times.  Some classes had difficulty with passing it to the same person they just passed it to (this isn't an AP class...).  Some complained about only getting one word, some tried to sneak peaks under the folded part, but it was all done in good fun.  I told them to write and they jumped on to it.  EVERY TIME!  Once we gave the papers back to the original owners, they got a real. kick out of reading it.  They were sharing crazy things that were in their story with the kids sitting neat them.  Was it silly writing? Yes.  But with these kids, I call it a victory.  This is the first time many of these students enjoyed writing since elementary school.

How can it be beneficial to your class?  A couple of ways.  If you are teaching ninth grade especially, it is a great way to teach the elements of the plot line.  I would say after the first passing, "O.K., the exposition and narrative hook has already been taken care of.  Now you need to start the rising action and add some 'umph' to the story."  After the second passing, "We're still in the rising action, guys!  Put in some conflict.  Let;s make this story a bit more interesting."  After the next passing, "O.K., now it is time for the climax.  We need this super exciting.  Really wow us here.  Go!"  I gave time only a short time for the climax scene before moving them into the falling action and resolution.

In this case, I had seniors, so I used it to remind them about the plot line, but my real focus was to draw attention to the power of that sentence - "It was seven minutes after midnight."  Why that one?  Because it is the first line of the book we are about to read.  We talked a little about the power of words and how authors choose them for a reason.

Plus, it was fun and now they are associating this fun they had with the book they are about to read.  That's never a bad thing.  O.K., so it wouldn't be good to use with Night.  Never say never, I guess.

I followed it up with a Judge a Book by Its Cover and a discussion on what is autism (since the narrator of the book has Asperger's) with a video clip.  I'll share those later.  I just wanted to brag that every one of my students today, even the super reluctant writers in my second period inclusion class,  were writing AND enjoying it.

That's just awesome.  How about you?  Do you have any great writing activities?  Be awesome and share it with us!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dahlesque and Other Author Words to Use

As you may have heard, we have a new word added to the English dictionary: Dahlesque

Here is the Oxford English Dictionary's definition:

Resembling or characteristic of the works of Roald Dahl - Dahl's writing, particularly his children's fiction, is typically characterized by eccentric plots, villainous or loathsome adult characters, and gruesome or black humour.
The word had been around since 1983, but has only now been recognized officially.

So your homework is to use the word today.  Just drop in conversation like it is a word that you always use.

Can't get enough Roald Dahl?  Try this chapter that was removed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  It is from an earlier draft where there were at least ten, maybe fifteen children taking the tour through the factory: The Warming Candy Room.  Plus, if you just want more odd tid bits, like the name of the third Charlie book

Of course, Dahl isn't the only author who has a word named after him:

Orwellian - named after George Orwell to describe over bearing government censorship and surveillance as in 1984.

Kafkaesque - named after Franz Kafka to mean something that is nightmarish

Dickensian - named after Charles Dickens to describe poverty like those featured in any of his novels.

Byronic - named after George Gordon, Lord Byron and is used to describe a hero that is brooding, lonely, and romantic.

Did I miss any?  I must have!  Let me know in the comments section.

EXTRA CREDIT! O.K., teachers love this as much as students so extra credit goes to whomever can tell me what is the title of the third Charlie book that Dahl never completed?  Just put it in the replies below!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Adding Sounds to Your Lectures

I know that lecture style teaching is really frowned upon today, but I still feel that it has its place from time to time.  Some teachers are excellent lecturers and story tellers.  Since I teach seniors, I feel that since my job is to prepare them for what comes after high school, I need to teach them how to take notes in a lecture format since many of them are planning on continuing their education.  Quite a few college classes still use lecture notes and many of these kids are completely unprepared for that sort of note taking.

I give them notes on the events of 1066 AD, but before I do, I give them tips on how to abbreviate, space out the notes, write in incomplete sentences, etc. since many try to write down everything (which is impossible).  In the inclusion classes, my inclusion teacher co-teaches it with me by taking notes on the side board as I lecture.  The students are not to take her notes, but she is modeling as we go and they can glance over to see if their notes match up.  She will periodically yell, "Pause!" at which I stop mid sentence and she takes the time to point out how they could tell that was important or how they should have written that down.

However, the title of this post is not how to co-teach lecture notes, it is about adding sound, so here we go.  I tried out a new idea to bring the notes more to life and it worked wonderfully.  I created a soundboard:

As I lectured, I hit the various sounds.  When the comet streaks by overhead, I played the whoosh sound.  When Godwinson and Hardrada fought it out, I played battle sounds in the  background.  When Godwinson and William met on the battlefield, "Duel of Fates" by John Williams played on.  The students loved it.  It worked so well, I am going to make some soundboards for Macbeth when I get to it.  You can get a good look at my sound board here:

So, how do you make your own sound board?  Well, I made mine using HTML and uploaded it to my site.  If you have your own site, check for a media upload on it.  If you know how to code HTML, the code it amazingly simple:

<audio controls> <source src="FileName.extension" type="audio/file type"> </audio>

<audio controls> <source src="whoosh-slow.mp3" type="audio/mpeg"> </audio>

Where to get your audio files?  Well, there are a lot of places out there, many of which are blocked by my school filter software since they entail downloads.  Here are a few:

So what about you?  Do you have some good sound clip links or an awesome way you jazz up notes?  If so, share it below!  Are you going to try adding music to your class?  Let me know!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair - Teaching that Scottish Play

While Othello is a close second, I just have so much more fun with Macbeth than any of Shakespeare's other plays.  Here are a few suggestions for ramping up your teaching of it, if you're game:

1. Judge a book by its cover - Show them these covers/drama posters for Macbeth and let them point out what they think is going to happen  These covers will also give them clues to what imagery to look out for when reading the play.

2. GET A FOG MACHINE - borrow it from your drama or dance teacher at your school.  Buy one at Wal-Mart during Halloween time.  For that matter, you can pick up a jug of fog juice cheap in the Halloween section at Wal-mart.  Get one for yourself and one to give to the teacher you borrowed it from.  Then, when it is time to read the first scene, wait for the narrator to read the setting and hit the button (works even better if the kids don't know it is coming).  Voila!  Perfect setting.  I also suggest letting your hall and principals know what is going on so that no one reports a fire on the hall (fog machines do not set off smoke alarms).  Yes, that I learned that the hard way.

3. Watch three interpretations of Act I scene i -  After reading the scene, let them watch these three movie versions of scene one and have them tell you which is more effective:

4. Point out that it is cursed -   If you are teaching seniors, let it drop that you hope this doesn't interfere with their graduation....  If you want some good information on the curse, listen to this podcast from Stuff You Missed in History Class.  It is only 20 minutes long and you can skip the first 2 and a half minutes if you want to jump right on into the curse discussion.

5. Encourage in-character reading - When reading out loud, offer something to the kid who reads his/her part with the most enthusiasm.  I offer team points (their teams compete against each other throughout the semester), but if you aren't doing teams in your class, modest extra credit, a point on the test, anything.  This way kids put more effort into the part and you have less boring, blah, blah, blah readers.  Also, try making one of the reading parts sound effects.  Every so often, you;ll get a kid who will really go all out to add sounds of people entering/exiting, owls, battle sounds, etc.

6. HAVE FUN!  Otherwise, why teach it?

What do you do to bring the play to life in your class?

Welcome to Extreme English

What is this blog all about?  It's about the greatest teachers in all of academia - the high school English teacher!  Those who read and (hopefully) contribute back are the ones who have raised their already high level to the extreme.

The posts here are to be practical lesson ideas, things English teachers find funny, tech tips, web site reviews, and anything else that we find interesting and useful.

One series of posts I hope to get to and hope to get your help on is Movies Reviewed by Teachers.  We will review movies with the eye of whether or not they are useful to show in class.

Unlike other blogs, this needs to be more interactive.  Comment.  Agree or disagree.  Offer your own ideas.  Tell how you tweaked it.  Submit ideas to be discussed.  Even think about writing a post or two.

So brace yourself, Extreme English Teacher is coming!