Monday, November 28, 2022

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus


On September 21st, 1897, The Sun ran this letter to the editor and its famous response:



DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA O'HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.


Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.


Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.


You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.


No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

So as the anniversary of this printing comes forward next week, you may wish to incorporate it into your classroom.  If nothing else, expose the kids to this bit of American culture.  Use it in journalism class to discuss the responsibility of the newspaper.  Just give the class the original letter and let them respond to it before showing the editor's response (could be a great way to teach audience). Use it for a reading comprehension practice (I have one here you may use: Reading Comprehension Practice).  Use it to spark a letter writing exercise and then write letters to editors of your newspapers.

Anyone else use this letter in their class?  If so, how?

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Shameless Plug: _The Lord of the Flies_ Interactive Survival Game



 I love this book with a passion!  As far as teaching symbolism, this book really gets reluctant readers to "get it".  The book has great characters, plenty of action, and lots of good, wholesome violence to keep teenagers happy.  The only problem is that it starts so slowly.

Anyone who teaches reluctant readers knows that if you cannot hook them immediately, you've lost them.

So, while sitting in church one day when I should have been listening to the sermon, I had an idea for a game to get my students into the book.  I made it all by hand with maps, cards, the whole nine yards.  As the years went by, I get tired of replacing lost cards or materials that were marked on by various students and started to take it online.  It took a few more years to perfect it, but I think I finally have it down pat.  It has by far been the most popular page on my class web site by other teachers and it is the most mentioned lesson of mine when other teachers contact me.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/EET-_Lord-of-the-Flies_-Interactive-Survival-Game-6933163


I break my students into groups and each group represents 20 island-stranded kids.  The students decide how many rescue fires they will have, where they will be sheltered, who goes hunting, who goes fruit gathering, and if they want to go exploring.  Each round is a 'week' in the game.

First thing we do is have each group draw and Act of God card.  These cards sometimes bring good things to the group, have no effect on the group, or (more likely) bring bad karma to the group.  Then we draw cards to see what happens when they go hunting, fruit gathering, and exploring.  At this point we tally up the morale.  The morale goes up and down depending on many factors like having shelter for everybody, getting food, people dying (there are a lot of people dying), etc. 


If the morale goes below 10, then the group leader has to draw a Revolt card to see what happens.  Sometimes something good happens, but most likely something bad will.  Then it's off to see if you get rescued.  

For the teams that are left, they do it all over again for the next week with the remaining people they have left.

Sometime groups have everything perfect and it is more like a Gilligan's Island episode than a Lord fo the Flies scenario.  Many groups get a good Lord of the Flies type experience, and some have so much bad luck that they make the book seem like a pleasant fairy tale.

Students are encouraged to think outside of the box and try things that are not expected. The teacher is the final say-so for what happens, so when students get creative, roll with it.

Whatever the outcome, the students experience situations that prep them for the action in the book.  Whenever I have used this game, I have found that students are more connected to the reading.

I always like it when teachers send me how their students came up with something new.  Sometimes I adjust the game to match it.  when my students started sabotaging the game to try and make their leader draw a Revolt card, I introduced a new element - Mutiny.  With some groups, that is very popular!


The game comes with the choice to either have it all online (in which case they would move objects on a screen), or to have printables for students to physically manipulate.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/EET-_Lord-of-the-Flies_-Interactive-Survival-Game-6933163


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Writing Wednesday: Random Dialogues

Today's creative writing assignment will be a Random Dialogue.  Here is how we will do it:

First, on your paper or computer, write down four numbers between 1 - 10.  They can be the same numbers. 

Got them?  Now, scroll down below the picture and you will find that your first number will be the first character.  The second number will be the second character.  The third will be the setting and the fourth will be the subject of the dialogue.



First Number - Character number one
  1. a mom
  2. a kid
  3. an alien
  4. a dog
  5. a rich man
  6. a grocery store owner
  7. a soldier
  8. a baby
  9. a superhero
  10. a vampire
Second Number - Character number two
  1. a dad
  2. a teenager
  3. the President of the United States
  4. a cat
  5. a poor woman
  6. a cowboy
  7. a spy
  8. a wizard
  9. a super villain
  10. a werewolf
Third Number - Setting
  1. morning at the beach
  2. in a grocery store
  3. in the White House
  4. on a city building rooftop
  5. nighttime in a graveyard
  6. on a golf course
  7. by the pool in winter
  8. in a school classroom
  9. in a fast food restaurant
  10. Christmastime in a house
Fourth Number - Dialogue Subject
  1. how much something costs
  2. the latest video game
  3. deciding on where to go for a date (not necessarily with each other)
  4. politics
  5. a dream the first character had last night
  6. what to have for the next meal
  7. character two is not happy about something character one did
  8. character one is excited about something that just happened
  9. a sporting event
  10. a movie they just watched

Now, you decide if they are arguing, being silly, serious, discussing, fighting, happy, etc.  Oh, and you had ten minutes, so no time to think ready...  GO!



O.K., was it any good? awful? just plain silly?  If you typed it, feel free to cut and paste it into the comments section.  You can always do this, no matter when it is you find this blog post.

Happy Wednesday!

Friday, November 4, 2022

Change Your Students' Responses to Text Using the Three Book Approach

One thing that inhibits student discussion at all levels is the fear that they did not come to the correct answer.  We, as English teachers, know that there is simultaneously a correct response and a validation of practically all responses, but students have a difficult time compressing that information in to trust that they can give their thoughts and epiphanies on a reading passage.

In my AP class, we do this first week, when we take "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and break it apart using as many different literary criticism as possible.  In my regular inclusion English IV class, we use this in our first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when we discuss the chapter where Father hits Christopher.

I draw this on the board, stopping to explain before drawing the next image:


Once I draw BOOK 1, I say this is the author and the book he wanted to write.  It is what was in his head as he envisioned the plot, characters, setting, etc.

Then I draw BOOK 2 and explain that this is the book that was written.  We all know that the ideas in our head does not always come out clearly in our writing.  Plus, this has undergone revision, editing, advice from trusted readers, publisher mandates, and many other things that changed the original idea.

I wrap up with BOOK 3 - this is the book we read in our head.  Everyone in the classroom read the same text, but because we all have different life experiences, different relationships with parents, friends, neighbors, different cultural backgrounds, and different environments in which we read (some of us were distracted, others hyper focused) - all these things lead to different feelings, different interpretations, different focuses.  In the "Woods" poem, our experience with snow and nature and possible previous interactions with Robert Frost impact out reading.  In Curious our relationship with our own father (or lack thereof) and our connection to someone on the spectrum will determine if we can forgive Father after this.  All these reactions are legitimate and part of the reading process.

It's why some people can (wrongly) enjoy the Star Wars sequel movies - they don't have the same baggage I bring with me to the movies.

Of course, just because we have certain reactions to characters and situations that differ from everyone, that doesn't dismiss the intention of the author and that can lead to a discussion of whether or not Shakespeare was successful in his intent to create an intense scene or Twain's ability to get his point across.

This discussion carries through my entire year and we often reference that third book.  It has increased participation in class discussions tremendously for me.




Sunday, October 9, 2022

Shameless Plug - Curious Incident of the Dog Chapter-by-Chapter Breakdown and Unit Bundle Pack

Currently on the Extreme English Teacher Store!


There is no book that I have found that generates student interest than The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. You know the students I teach - seniors who have given up on the thought of enjoying a book, struggling with reading, generally ready to be done with school to start a life that will never ask you to find the symbolism in that chapter - yet, this book has them reading ahead on their own time, jumping into class discussion, and getting passionate in class.  If you don't know why you should be teaching this book, read this and come back.  I'll wait.

What I have done is to break down this book chapter-by-chapter.  This is not a book summary. This is a guide to how to teach it.  Each chapter has my what-to-look for moments, what to emphasize, a heads up on what may throw off a student, how long it takes to read it aloud, which chapters work best read aloud, and along the way, I throw in fourteen activities - some in class, some for students to do on their own.  The students will immerse themselves into the games that Christopher plays, find the constellation he looks at, make predictions, read parts, and learn a quite a bit about how to treat others who are different.

It is exactly how I have taught this book for years, tweaking and adding along the way.  If you teach high school kids, especially ones who do not believe reading can be an enjoyable experience, YOU NEED TO TEACH THIS BOOK!  And this guide will help you to do it.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/EET-Chapter-by-Chapter-Guide-for-Curious-Incident-of-the-Dog-in-the-Night-Time-7621144


And, in case you want the whole deal, you can get the Unit pack that includes:

  • Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (with the 14 activities)
  • Pre-Reading Activity
  • Questions for every chapter
  • Tests (both paper and online)




Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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.