Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Hyphen - It IS Important

Basic hyphen rules review:

Use a hyphen:
  1. When the creator of the word used one (which is why we have a hyphen between Spider-Man and not Superman)
  2. For two words are working together as a single adjective (chocolate-covered raisins)
  3. Between the tens and ones of numbers (twenty-one)
  4. To avoid confusion (re-elect)
  5. With the prefixes ex-, all-, self- (ex-wife, all-inclusive, self-driving)
  6. With any prefix attached to a capitalized word (pre-World War II)
  7. Before the suffix -elect (president-elect)
Do NOT use a hyphen when:
  1. Two words are working together as a single adjective AFTER the noun (Those raisins are chocolate covered)
  2. Between other place values (two hundred sixty-five)

Monday, March 23, 2020


This is an old post from an earlier incarnation of this blog, but in the need to work with students remotely, this site has become extra valuable for me.  See Feature 3.  It helps to break the monotony of at home learning by having a chance to play a game against classmates like normal.  You can also use it for assessments since the kids can work on it when they get a chance to work on it.

We are all looking for new and different things for which to use for formal assessment, keep the kids happy, or to just do something different.  Quizzizz is hardly new, but you might not be familiar with it and it is a good alternative to Kahoot, which while is a fantastic site in its own right, may start to feel stale if it is the only game you use.

Quizzizz allows you to set up an online quiz, much like Kahoot, but there are some differences and it offers a few different features.

The biggest difference is that the question appears on the students computer, not the teacher's screen.  So this works very well if you find yourself with a blown bulb or a school system that has not moved to SmartBoards or some similar display.

Feature 1 - The students work at their own pace
Yes, the points still are worth more the faster you answer it, but the students can move from one question to the next at their own pace.  This helps those that work slower not to feel intimidated by the pace.

Feature 2 - Scramble the questions and answers
Have a few cheaters in your room?  Foil their nefarious plans by scrambling the order that everyone sees the questions.

Feature 3 - You don't have to be there to run it
You can choose the HOMEWORK option and set a time span for them to complete it.  This is neat for when you are absent and you have a hodgepodge of activities for your class to do.  You can just email them the code and they can complete it on their own time.  This is useful for home bound students as well.

Feature 4 - Reports

You can get a listing of how each individual student performed and how hard each questions was.  The downside of this is that it will show on your screen while the students are taking it, so if you are hooked to the projector, it will project for all to see.  This may or may not be a problem for you, but is easily solved by switching browser tabs during the actual playing of the game.

Feature 5 - Memes

When a student answers the question, a meme flashes before them letting them know if they got the question correct or not.  You can use their memes or import your own.  For that matter, you could just ask a few students to make you memes and I am sure that there will be no shortage of volunteers on that.

So have fun, my friends!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Check Out the Store!

Extreme English Teacher now has a Teacher Pay Teachers store.

The focus of the store is to provide resources for teachers of low-level, low motivated English students.  They are all activities and lessons that I have used in the past with success.

I am working on a larger Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time unit pack and will post it shortly, but you can get the freebie guide to Acing Reading Comprehension State Tests right now.  If you like it, give it a rating, please!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Art of Randomness

Students can be set off by little things.  In my younger years, I taught summer school and I returned an assignment to a student who had just put her head down.  I laid the assignment on her desk and as soon as I turned to the next student, it fell to the ground. She screamed, "You ALWAYS throw my papers on the ground!" and proceeded to throw her desk across the room before running out.

I found this a quite interesting reaction.  Even if I was intentionally dropping her papers on the floor (which I do not recall doing), why react that vehemently?

The older (and wiser) I get, the more I seek out ways to minimize setting students off.  There are plenty of things out of our control such as:

  • girlfriend/boyfriend problems
  • drug issues
  • overbearing parents
  • indifferent parents
  • hateful parents (I had one kid who, when his father was upset, was made to sleep on the porch, regardless of the temperature)
  • any number of things
However, there is one thing that drives students crazy that you can control - 
Saying their name aloud

The best way I have found to avoid doing that is to 1. give redirection as general as possible (doesn't always work, but saying, "OK, everyone to your seats" rather than "Kyle, go to your seat" sometimes gets the job done without it seeming personal, even if Kyle is the only one out of his seat).  The other method  is to be random.

What you see here is the Container of Kismet.and a $5 Magic 8-Ball.  Kismet means fate or destiny, but I like the alliterative qualities of it with the word container.  I put all of their names in the box (this is a baby formula container - works great!).  Then, if I need someone to read or mark grammar on the board, I just pull the name from the box.  This way, I am not picking on Kyle, fate has chosen Kyle.  And who are we to fight fate?  It is unbelievable how much of a difference this stupid difference makes.  

Now, to really sell it, you need to also use the Container of Kismet for good, too.  Sometimes after a quiz, I will say, "Someone here has done something nice and has not been rewarded for it."  So I pull a name from the box and give that person 5 bonus points.

The 8 Ball is great for when kids are trying to finagle something that you really don't care too much about, but don't want to always just give in on.  For example, a kid says, "Will you take (insert wrong answer) for this question?"  It is close enough, but not what I would really want to accept normally, so we go to the 8 Ball.  I always let another student read off the result so that I am not accused of cheating.  Students will accept their fate from a stupid toy faster than they will for you.  You gave them a fair chance, after all.

So, what crazy methods do you employ to get your kids to behave in class?  Let us know in the comments (even if you are finding this article way past the post date).

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Moon the Size of a Pixel

One of the problems with students who are on the ball is what do you do with them when you are letting the other kids catch up?

I have a slew of activities that I use for extra credit that I pull out when students get a day to get caught up.  One of them is The Moon the size of a Pixel.

The site is pretty neat.  It is a spacial map of the solar system putting the moon the size of one pixel and showing how much empty space is between the two.  As you scroll, he will fill in some of the space with comments, usually about how much space there is.

Eventually you pass all the planets (there is a cheat scroll at the top to jump from planet to planet).

So, what does this have to do with English?  Well, the assignment for those go getters is to scroll until they find the Shakespeare quote.  Then they are to email me the quote and what Shakespeare play it comes from.  I do not tell them where the quote is (that would take the fun away from it), but I will tell you.  You'll find it between Saturn and Uranus (closer to Uranus).  I had to fold the two screenshots up because the quote and explanation is longer than one screenful:

I love how this blends with his science lesson.  The sayings that come beforehand talk about how it is impossible for us to comprehend some things such as the amount of space between objects in space.

I like this activity since it keeps students busy while others are working, it blends science and literature, and it practices research skills since the student will need to look up the quote to find which of Shakespeare's plays it comes from.  This is even better if you choose to teach this play later on.

Have a time filler you like to use?  Let us know in the comments!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

Actually, today's post is not really about her, but let's give a little hoopla first -

OK, enough of that.

Everyday is a holiday, so why not use that in your classroom?  I post Today's Holiday on the board each day just to make the board dynamic (I do this with a pun of the day as well).  It keeps some students checking it out regularly and then they sometimes notice other things I want them to see on the board (due dates, notes, etc.).

The holidays can also be great prompts for writing activities, provide themes for grammar practice sentences, or give an excuse to share the story of the sappy love letter romance between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.

The calendar to the right of this blog lists out several holidays, birthdays (both real and fictional), and more like:

  • International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19) - Also Hermione Granger's Birthday
  • Grammar Day (March 4)
  • Dunce Day (Nov. 8)
  • Opposite Day (Jan. 25)
  • Superman's Birthday (Feb. 29)
  • Tell a Story Day (Apr. 27)
Just to name a few!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Word of the Day - Villain

It's Dr. Evil, I didn't spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called "mister," thank you very much. 

So our word of the day is VILLAIN, but what's the fun in that?  We already know this to mean bad guy or antagonist.  An evil character designed to push the plot.

Image result for evil villains

But that definition wasn't used for the word until 1822.  Before that, it was used to mean a peasant.  Here is what the Online Etymology Dictionary has to say about it:

c. 1300 (late 12c. as a surname), "base or low-born rustic," from Anglo-French and Old French vilain "peasant, farmer, commoner, churl, yokel" (12c.), from Medieval Latin villanus "farmhand," from Latin villa "country house, farm" (from PIE root *weik- (1) "clan").
 The most important phases of the sense development of this word may be summed up as follows: 'inhabitant of a farm; peasant; churl, boor; clown; miser; knave, scoundrel.' Today both Fr. vilain and Eng. villain are used only in a pejorative sense. [Klein]
The root word is where we get the word "villa" from, meaning a large and fancy country home.  We know "village" to be a small country town (villa meaning country) and "villager" meaning one who lives in a village.  A "villager" at one time meant an uncouth country hick, instead of one living in a village.

So when you are giving that Middles Ages introduction and you hit the feudal system, consider letting them know that serfs and peasants were the original villains of the world.

Related image

Monday, February 24, 2020

Pocket Points - What to Expect and How to Make It Work

Phones are a problem.  It is hard to compete with social media and games.  Just look around at your next PD or faculty meeting and you'll see that students are not the only ones lured away from content by that glowy screen.

So what is a teacher to do?

Well, you could try smashing their phone in class.  Several videos exist of teachers doing this.  But unless you are only after YouTube clicks, that is likely to cause you more trouble than what it is worth.  Unless, of course, you teach in Central China and it is a school sponsored event:

You are seemingly limited to three options:

  1. Confiscate the phone - bad option as you are potentially liable for any damages to the phone that you actually caused or are accused of causing.  I sure, though, that your local school board will take your side against the angry parent who wants you to pay for the replacement of that new iPhone.
  2. Argue with the student about your cell phone policy - also a bad option as who wins in that scenario?  Maybe you will.  Maybe you'll just have administration tired of coming to your room to remove yet another kid who won't put his/her phone away.  And while you are fighting that battle?  Your other students are left not learning anything.
  3. Give up and let those who don't wish to learn fail - The best of the three, but try explaining that to your AP when he or she comes in to observe you.  This also is bad since kids who would try and focus are now seeing others get away with using their phones and it makes them more likely to pull out theirs.

However, there is always Option 4.


You have probably seen this app, but wasn't sure if it was worth using or not.  I gave it a shot last semester and liked it enough to do it again.

What it does:

Once the Pocket Points app has been loaded on a student's phone and your class code has been entered, then all the student does is pull up their phone and click the app icon.  No log in needed after the first go.  The phone immediately goes into lock mode, hiding the screen with a quite satisfying counter that shows the student's minutes racking up.

The student need not worry.  When the phone locks, it will unlock at any time the student wishes to unlock it.  So if Johnny locks the phone and then fifteen minutes later remembers he has to text momma, he can just unlock the phone with a click.  Of course, it will stop earning time until it is locked again.

Is it a miracle cure?

No.  However, if you do it right, you can see more success (more on that later in this post).  The students who are never on their phone get rewarded for doing what you want them to do, which is nice.  The students who hate to be off the phone will have a hard time buying into this.  But the reason why this is a great thing is that students who are in between tend to choose the rewards, thus really cutting down on the phone use overall in your class.

About 2/3 of my class use it, most of them fairly regularly.  That's not bad.

How hard is it to set up?
Not too hard.  The student downloads the app.  Then they put in their phone and email address.  Once they verify their email address, they will have to restart the app and it will look like they are repeating the process, but after they get their confirmation code again, it will ask them to find their school on the menu.  

Then it gets a little tricky.  The app looks like it is running, but the student has to click the apple icon at the bottom to enter your classroom code.  After that, it is just a matter of locking it.  

But Wait!  There's More!

Students who lock up their phone earn rewards not just in your classroom, but in the community as well.  Red Box movies, Papa John's Pizza, and other companies give students rewards and discounts for keeping their phone locked up for certain hours.  It also will give points to students whose phones are locked while they are driving.

How to Do It Right

You have to be willing to give out the rewards.  Every Friday I pull up the rewards page and dole out the goodies.  You need to do this regularly and you need to do this publicly.  Once kids start seeing other kids getting things, well, that is motivation in itself.

My rewards are set up in five hour increments.  At that setting, it is not too hard to earn a reward once a week, or at least once every two weeks.  Some of the things I give out:

  • A Divine Intervention (this is a homework pass)
  • Quiz bonus points
  • Team points (for a game we play in class)
  • +10 test bonus (you need quite a bit of points to get that one)
And other stuff.  Whatever you choose, make it something worth turning the phone off for.

I reset everything in the second quarter since it only goes up to 50 hours.

You also should have the Pocket Points rewards and classroom code available on the wall so that students can decide to participate later on.  The first semester I tried this, I only told the students to set up the app on the first day of school.  This semester I have it on the wall and I am having a much higher participation rate as students are convincing each other to give it a shot.  They like those rewards.

If you have tried this app in your classroom, I would love to hear how it is working for you!  Also, if you have a different phone management system, let me hear it!  

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Inference Using "Ordeal By Cheques"

One of my son's middle school teachers gave this to him and I think it is absolutely brilliant.  I've used it ever since in my ninth grade short story unit.  Students who do not read well, can handle this one.  It is an excellent story to work inference skills.  I like to put it on the SmartBoard and do the discussion about what is really happening and who are the characters.  I do have to review a little bit about what are the components of a check, since these objects are becoming obsolete.

"Ordeal by Cheques" by Wuther Crue is a visual story that must have the entire plot inferred as we only get to see a series of checks written over a period of 28 years. The checks look like this:

Over the course of the story, little things change, such as the name that signs the check, the date, etc.  The students are left to figure out why these check are being written and who these people are that are having checks written to them.  Certain people get checks in the same amount while some checks are way too high for the time period.

Here is a copy of the story.  It is not long and if you teach inference skills or short stories, I encourage you to give it a shot in your class.  Let me know if you have any stories similar to this.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Love Stinks -or- Eight Brief Tales of Lovers

Here's a good lesson if you teach mythology or if you want to incorporate some myths into your world literature course.

The lesson is a type of "jigsaw" group lesson.  This can easily be adapted to any type of short story.

These myths come from Edith Hamilton's Mythology.  I bet there are class sets somewhere in your school.  If you do not currently have a mythology class, then they are probably collecting dust in your Latin teacher's room.

Your school undoubtedly has a class set of these somewhere.

Break your class in to teams.  Depending on the size of your class, you may have to adjust these numbers, cut out a myth or two, or something like that.

One member of the team will go up and get a note card for each teammate.

Round One
Each team member picks one of these four stories:
  "Pyramus and Thisbe"
  "Orpheus and Eurydice"
  "Cyex and Alycone"
  "Pygmalion and Galatea"
Once they have read the story, each person will write down one question on their card.  The group can (and should) work together to come up with the question.

Then return everyone to their original groups (the above will take approximately 12-15 minutes).  They will teach their story to their group.

Do the same thing with Round Two
  "Baucus and Philemon"
  "Alpheus and Arethusa"

Once the groups have read and returned to teach their team, collect the cards.

Now pit the teams against each other.  Using the cards as the question base, play some game (I like Sunken Treasure) for team points, bonuses, or whatever incentive you like to use.

'nuff said!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Why You Should Be Teaching _The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time_ to Your High Schoolers

This book is so great for seniors on so many levels.

If you are not aware of what the book is about, it is a story told from the perspective of a fifteen year-old boy who is on the spectrum.  He is investigating the murder of a neighbor's dog, but there is another story going on that he doesn't see.  It  is this other story that is so captivating for students.

So why should you teach it?

1. Students who HATE to read LOVE this book.  I often teach regular ed and EC inclusion students who have a strong dislike to reading.  It may be for many reasons that they hate reading in general, but no matter the cause, they almost all love this book.  I have experienced many non-readers reading ahead on their own.  Many students tell me it is the only book they've read cover to cover since they can remember.  

On my web site, I have a poll that students can take anonymously.  Here is the break down as of now:
Loved it - 32%
It was pretty good - 47%
It was OK - 17%
It's pretty bad - 1%
Hated it - 3%
I challenge you to find a book with better approval ratings for students who hate to read.

Why is this?  Well, the book is written on both a simple and complex level.  Just reading the words is simple.  You are not going to pair this book up with an SAT vocabulary unit.  However, the story is very complex, so students can understand and follow, but do not feel liked it is "dumbed down".

2. Students who LOVE to read LOVE this book.  My colleagues who teach honors have terrific success with this book.  Despite not having a high vocabulary level, the story has layers of complexity that make you forget the word choice level.

3. It is a great book to use to teach:
  • Perspective - The narrator here is unreliable, not that in he lies (like I am sure Van Helsing is when he records what he does while alone with Mina Harker), but because he doesn't fully understand what is happening.  
  • Prediction - There are so many clues and red herrings that it is fun to watch the students try and figure out what the "real" story is, as well as trying to figure out who killed the dog.  When one of my nonreaders make a prediction that later comes true, they get so excited.
  • Dramatic Irony - Since we know, at least half way through the book, what is happening while the narrator is trying to figure it out, there is a certain amount of suspense created.

4. It promotes autism awareness.  You have students on the spectrum in your class.  Your students interact with people on the spectrum every day and may not even realize it.  This book will show how Christopher processes information.  The students relate to him and are completely invested in what happens.  Students will also want to share stories of their sisters, cousins, nephews, etc. that are on the spectrum.  Students who are on the spectrum, at least in the last decade I've been teaching this, like having a protagonist they can identify with.  Sometimes I will have a student identify themselves as autistic and other times they do not, but the book handles it so well, that I have yet to have a student on the spectrum not like that we read it.

For that matter, it also brings to the forefront disability awareness.  My inclusion teacher hosts the EC Spring Games for the district where the more severe and profound students in all the schools from elementary to high school come and compete in various events.  After reading this book, my students want to volunteer to help host.

5. It is easy to be creative with it.  There are so many off topic chapters that it provides several opportunities to do something different with your students.  From getting them to fake photographs to playing Monty Hall to searching for constellations - there are so many ways to bring this book to life.

6. It is flexible.  The chapters are generally short, so that allow the freedom to stop and start in a variety of places.  This makes it easy to allow conversation to develop in class as well as each chapter ending provides an organic opportunity to let kids express what they are thinking.

If you teach this book, leave a comment and tell me a success story.  If you want to teach this book, keep your eyes open.  I am currently putting together everything I use in my class and plan on putting it up on Teachers Pay Teachers soon.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Coming Soon...

I am resetting this blog.  There will be new posts coming soon.  These posts will be aimed at giving you lesson ideas, plans, analyzing resources available, and more all specifically aimed at those teaching students who struggle for any reason - learning disabilities, lack of motivation, low ability, no support at home, etc.

I look forward to this new start for the Extreme English Teacher Blog!