Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Inaugural Address

Treading into the realm of politics has caused all sorts of problems for teachers for years past and most certainly years to come.  However, when done correctly, can yield rich material for lessons for the English curriculum and extracurriculars that fall in the English domain, such as public speaking.  Every election year I have my students watch and analyse one of the debates.  They are just looking for public speaking aspects (although I do allow them to put their own views into the report), but presidential debates get their attention (especially low level seniors who have never paid attention to this stuff before).

So that brings us to Lit Charts.  They have an AnaLITics part of their site where they will break down books by word usage, sentence structure, reading grade level, etc.  They used their technique to compare all the inaugural speeches, including Trump's speech for Friday to see where they all connect and what trends we are seeing.  Here are a few charts provided on the page:

There are more, plus a good explanation of what these charts mean from a language perspective, and not from a political perspective (you can get enough of that by watching cable news).  I think it is a must look at for all public speaking teachers and anyone who loves English language.

Here is the link to whole site:

Just curious - how many of you already have plans to incorporate the inaugural speech into your lessons this week?

Monday, January 9, 2017

YA Novel Review - The Red Queen

Recently a student was raving about this book:

Here is the back of the book blurb:

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

Since my student was so excited about the book, I decided to give it a whirl.  I then started thinking that this should be a new thing here at XET - a book review with the classroom in mind.

So let's break it down:

My personal reaction - I like the book.  It has a Hunger Games feel, much like a combination of the best of book three and book one.  Just add super powers to half of the people involved.  I will certainly pick up the sequel to this book.

What sort of students would this appeal to? I think it fits 9-12, but that would depend largely on the ability to read.  Low level ninth graders would not typically be into this book, in my opinion.  Students should like fantasy and science fiction.  Any student who is a fan of Hunger Games ought to try it out.

Suitability for the Classroom -  Well, for this category, let's break it down into these areas:
  • sex - while this is love story at heart, the emphasis on physical love is non-existence.  The most we have in this book is a kiss.
  • violence - well, there quite a bit of this.  However, it is not as graphic as Hunger Games.  Some people die and die horribly, but there is no real graphic detail
  • religion - not a factor in this book
  • language - very clean
So would I choose to teach it to a class?  No, but I would certainly like to have copies in my classroom for individuals to read or maybe use it as a small group unit.  I think the fantastical elements in this book would probably turn off many struggling readers.

XET Grade:  B+

Anyone read it?  Please give it a grade in the comments or add your own thoughts to the mix.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Befana - The Christmas Witch

At first I was thinking that the early Christians had the right idea to celebrate Christmas for twelve days, but then I started to realize that we start the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving and celebrate a lot longer than twelve days!

Back to the twelve days, on the twelfth day (January 6th), not only are you supposed to give your true love twelve drummers drumming, but children should prepare for the coming of La Befana. In Italy, on the Epiphany (Jan. 6th), La Befana, or sometimes known as the Christmas witch, brings fruits and small goodies to stuff in children's stockings that they hang by their bed. If you're a naughty little chap, she'll give you charcoal. She travels by either broomstick or on the back of a donkey, and so doesn't have the capacity for large toys like Santa. And for the adults, she sweeps the floor before leaving (Nice!)

Speaking of Santa, she also doesn't frequent malls for kiddies to hang out with either. She is a witch - ugly nose warts, rags, haggish cackle, and all. But children in Italy seem to love her all the same. She is rather rotund and it is common to leave her, not milk and cookies, but a glass of wine and a small doll.

How did she get her start? Well, according to legend, she was cleaning house when these three wise guys showed up looking for Jesus. She thought they were full of it and chased them off, only later to have some second thoughts. She ran out to help them, but had dallied too long. They were long gone. Distressed that she missed her chance to help the baby Jesus, she began handing out gifts to children hoping that one of them was the baby Jesus.

An alternate version is that her son was one of the babies killed by King Herod. She doesn't believe he is really dead, so she goes out in search for him every Christmas. Personally, I like the first one better.

Regardless of the origin, her search turned her old, gray, and into the hag-like appearance she now has. Finally, she found Jesus and laid all her gifts (or her son's belongings) before him. He called her "Befana" (giver of gifts or the White Witch) and gave her the ability to deliver gifts each year on night before Jan. 6th.

So, get those socks hung up!