Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Common Lit


Want a pretty easy-to-use, but also effective reading comprehension activity?  You need to look no further than https://www.commonlit.org/

Common Lit has thousands of reading passages with questions ready to go.  Once you set up an account, it is pretty easy for students to use.  You just give them your access code.  You can make a separate code for all of your periods to help keep that grading from getting muddled.

Fiction Passages - Unlike many other online reading comprehension sites out there (I'm looking at you, Newsela), Common Lit has fiction as well as nonfiction.  In fact, they have a lot of fiction - and from well known authors too.  The passages are from classic authors like Frost and from contemporary authors like J. K. Rowling.

The Difficulty Level - You choose how difficult you want this to be.  Passages are labeled by grade level, but the students do not see that.  My seniors are not strong readers and I usually give them passages between 8-9 grade level.  They do not know.  Sometimes I'll go as low as 4th grade and as high as 12th grade.  Whatever level I find useful for the moment.

Passage Length - How long do you want it?  Some passages are poems as short as three lines long.  Some are full length short stories going of for pages.  For my purposes, I usually find ones that are about a half to a full page in length.

Selection - You can sort passages by a variety of filters - Lexile level, grade level, genres, themes, literary devices.  You can even search by the novel you are reading in class and find supplementary texts that pair nicely with the book (they even suggest where you should be in the book before assigning the article).

The Questions - They have some that are multiple choice and some that are short answer.  You can choose to assign both or just the one or the other.  The multiple choice questions are automatically graded while you need to grade the short answer.  Students will not see the grades until you release the scores.  That way you can make sure everyone has had a chance to submit the questions before the correct answers are floating around.  You also have the option to exempt students or assign a passage to a particular student or group.

Here's How I Use It - Each Monday I assign two articles for students to work on that week.  They have until Sunday at midnight to work on them (well, that is what I tell them - it really is until Monday morning when I come into school).  On Monday morning, I go through those assignments and exempt students who haven't attempted it yet (it's an easy two click process).  This makes it so that they students will no longer have access to those articles.  Then, when I have the time, I input their grades into PowerSchool and release the score tot he students.  I also, each week, assign one optional make-up article to replace a bad or missing grade.  With this set up, if I have a sub or need to fill some time, one of my go to lesson plans is to give students time in class to knock out a Common Lit article or two.  

Oh, I may have forgotten to tell you this - IT'S ABSOLUTELY FREE!  Guys, it doesn't LOOK like a free site.  There are no ads.  They could easily - EASILY - charge school a few thousand a year for access to this tool.  But they don't.  They are EXTREME!

I'm interesting in hearing from anyone else who uses it or has another online reading comprehension tool that they use.  tell me in comments!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Wireless Microphone

 My district is looking at returning to in-person, but we will be teaching a virtual class at the same time.  Teaching virtually ties me down to the laptop since if I move too far away from it, the remote students can't hear me.  Sticking right at the computer diminishes my ability to teach the kids in the room.  So what to do?

I decided to look into a wireless microphone that would work with my computer.  I found this one on Amazon and a video of a guy testing it out.  He was a whole block away and I could hear him perfectly!

Now if you only watched a portion of video, you may have seen him using it, but his mouth not synched up.  Later he said that was because he was using the phone instead of the laptop.  He then recorded off his computer and his voice was synch with his mouth.

The downside?  It runs about $50.  

I'm going to keep looking to see if I can find one a little cheaper, but I'm thinking that $50 might be worth it if it works and gives me some freedom to move around the room.

I'd love to hear from any of you who are teaching both in-class and remote at the same time and hear what your problems are and solutions, if you've thought of them yet.  Or if anyone has used a wireless mic - are they worth it?

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

10 Day Blitz

 Just a quick thought here - many of us are working in some sort of remote or hybrid schedule and it is difficult for the students to sometimes get their head around it.  Even though they are doing (most likely) less work than what you would be assigning if you were in class as normal, they are feeling like it is more work than ever.

We get that.  We see it in our own daily schedule.  Who would have thought teaching remotely would take this much effort?

So I've been doing something to help my students get their head around their work.  I looked at what was still left to do and what was most commonly needed to be made up and I broke it down for them by days of the week.  This way, it doesn't feel so overwhelming.  It went something like this:

Monday - do the first Common Lit article; work on vocabulary.com for 5 minutes

Tuesday - do the second Common Lit article; work on vocabulary.com for 4 minutes; if you did not complete the vocabulary crossword then do that today (link to online crossword)

Wednesday - If you are missing a past Common Lit article, do the make up article; work on vocabulary.com for 3 minutes (test tomorrow); work on Author Revision paper for 10 minutes

Thursday - If you did not do the Edmentum Reading Diagnostic test, do that today; if you are missing the Quizizz for chapter 25, do that today (link); if you did not need to do any of the above, work on you Author Revision Paper for 10 minutes

Friday - If you did not do the Grammar Blast, do it today; work on your Author Revision Paper for 15 minutes (you should be done with the 950 words requirement); I will give a make up vocabulary list 2 test at 12:00 - look in your email for login information; Vocabulary 3 test make up will be given at 12:30.

Saturday - If you are missing the Email Etiquette assignment, know that out today.

Sunday - Take a break!

And so on for ten days worth of work.  

This does a few things:

  • Helps the student who is feeling overwhelmed to get his/her assignments together.  It is much better for them than to just give them a list of missing and upcoming assignments.
  • Model for students how to keep up with assignments, especially those who are looking to go to college in a year or two.
  • Helps the parents to assist their child at home by giving them what to remind their child to do (I send this to the students AND parents).
  • Helps you in case an administrator wants to know what YOU  did to help the student.
I try to get the students to Zoom with me one on one and work out a specific schedule just for him or her.  that's always better than a generic one, but a generic schedule is better than no schedule.

It is a bit more work on your already overloaded shoulders, but in the long run, it is time spent that pays off in several ways.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Friday Film Festival: The Lord of the Flies - Modern Classics Summarized

Overly Sarcastic Productions breaks down literature classics in a rather sharp manner!  Watch their take on Lord of the Flies:

Check out my Lord of the Flies survival game you can play in class (if we ever safely get back to a classroom setting, that is). http://lordalford.com/lotf/lotfframeset.htm

Do you do anything special for Lord of the Flies when you teach it?  Let us know in the comments section!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Paper Airplane Research Challenge

Students struggle in English for a variety of reasons.  One of those is learning styles.  Many student I have had are great learners when it comes to working with hands.  Put this kid in a carpentry, auto mechanics, or electrical trades class, and they are showing amazing learning.  Sit this kid in a desk and make him read, well, the learning declines.

Providing opportunities for kinetic learners to shine is not a new concept.  Science sees this in labs and math with manipulatives.  However, this is much more difficult in an English class.

The following activity is designed to help kinetic learners excel at researching by giving them something physical to do with the research.

Extreme English Teacher presents: The Paper Airplane Challenge!

Research methods are what they are.  You teach these methods with any subject.  The paper airplane challenge takes kids through five different research sites to find the best way to fold a paper airplane.  Students will search out and five five ways to fold using five different search methods, then pick one and put it to the test.  After taking kids out of the classroom to compete against each other to find the farthest flying plane, students can also compete for the best and oddest looking.

The lesson comes with directions on how to present the different search methods and a worksheet for students to fill out while searching.

If you like this one, you may also like:
The Movie Report: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/EET-The-Movie-Report-5452641Ben Franklin Quotes: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Extreme-English-Teacher-Ben-Franklin-Quotes-5279912


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Macbeth and Joker - Making Connections

So I watched Joker this weekend, finally, and my English teacher nerd brain immediately thought of Macbeth. 

****Spoiler Alert if you are planning on watching the Joker movie anytime soon***

Joker is an excellent movie to watch - once.  I can't say I would want to watch it again.  I'm sure you have heard that is addresses the issue of mental illness in a way not many movies can encapsulate.

That's an issue for another post (and probably a different blog).  I want to bring in comparisons to Macbeth.  Both are delusional - Joker seeing the woman next to him in his time of need, Macbeth seeing the dagger, the ghost of Banquo, and quite possibly the witches at the end (I always let me students argue if he really does see them in the big apparition scene especially since Lennox comes on stage right where they leave and states that he did not see them - my struggling readers get a kick out of figuring out what is real with Macbeth and not and love to float conspiracy theories).

We can also see how both characters are victims of their own making, even though there were outside forces at work.  Joker certainly has mental illness, a failing government health system, a history of being abused as a child, and just rotten people all around him to push him into action, but when it comes down to it, HE is the one who actually acts.  Same with Macbeth.  Certainly we can lay some blame at the feet of the witches, Lady Macbeth, and even some at Duncan for being such a poor judge of character, but in the end, it is MACBETH that chooses to kill.

But I think the biggest parallel is the type of people they both kill - and the order in which it is done.  let's look at Joker's murders compared to Macbeth's:


  • The two guys on the train - self defense - perfectly justifiable
  • The third train guy who was trying to get away - a little less justifiable since the guy no longer posed a threat, but we can see and excuse Arthur (Joker) at this point.
  • His  mother - certainly past excusing, but we can see where he is a victim of his illness here.
  • Randall - now we see Joker going down a road toward senseless murder.  Randall did him wrong, but that seems to be an excuse to murder him at this point.  Arthur still has some sense of himself, though, when he lets Gary leave.
  • Maury - similar to above, but less so since the guy is now giving Joker a chance to succeed at being a comedian, Arthur's goal.  Unfortunately, from this point on, I think we can safely say that Arthur is no longer a character.  Only Joker.
  • The health care worker at the end - here there is no reason to kill her.  She is only trying to help and this murder is irredeemable.  
  • Macdonwald - brutal killing, but an act done in war and in defense of his king and country.  Perfectly acceptable and even lauded as an act of a hero
  • Duncan - inexcusable, but there is a reason for this murder - Macbeth wants something  and this is the way to get it in his mind.
  • The Guards - logical under the circumstances.  If Macbeth is going to get away with his former act, this is what needs to be done to prevent them from telling others that Lady Macbeth was the one who got them drunk.
  • Banquo - Macbeth has a reason, but we are getting further away from it being a logical reason.  Here we see Macbeth is beginning to become obsessed with killing.
  • Lady Macduff and Little Boy Macduff - here Macbeth crosses the Rubicon.  Up to this point, he at least had a reason to kill, albeit often a flimsy one, but a reason nonetheless.  This killing, though, is not only useless, but only gives Macduff MORE reason to come after him.  
Both go through a progression where the murders get further and further away until we can no longer hope for the protagonist's redemption.  Both of these stories puts the audience in the camp of the villain.  We want to root for Arthur and Macbeth.  It's the nature of the protagonist to have the reader/viewer on his side.  But both stories takes us down a path with the lead character until we feel in a traitorous situation by no longer agreeing with his actions and wanting him stopped.

If you have any good book to pop culture pairings, list them in the comments.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Daily Reading Comprehension Questions

In my state, we have two English tests that are practically the same.  One is the North Carolina Final Exam (formerly called the MSL, formerly called the Common Exam) for freshmen, juniors, and seniors.  The other is the End of Course for sophomores.

They are quite horrid tests, as I am sure you can relate to in whatever state you are in.  It is more of a test of a student's ability to stay focused for two to three hours rather than an accurate measure of a student's reading comprehension.

I have two daily reading comprehension blogs for you.  While one is labeled for the NCFE and the other for the EOC, they have the same type of questions and will fit most any reading comprehension tests.

The first is the Daily Dose of NCFE:

And the second is the Daily Dose of EOC:

They hit literary terms, vocabulary, author's purpose, inference, and basic plot understanding. 

Currently, they each run for a semester and then recycle the questions. Next year they may be merged into one blog, since supposedly my state is doing away with the NCFE, which should mean I can pick from the best questions on both.

I have had great success on my state reading comprehension test scores.  I've spent a lot of time understanding these beasts.  I do have a free resource on my Teacher-Pay-Teachers store that helps you walk students through prepping for the test.  I usually use it a week before the test.  It gives students a way to stay focused longer during the test.  I know  you probably do not have a state test for your students this year with all the shut downs, but feel free to download and give it a look for next year.  And if you like it, please leave a review for it. It helps me out a lot as a fledgling store owner.


Monday, April 27, 2020

The Empty Throne

Here is a quick lesson for you to use.  It is a reading excerpt from Bernard Cornwell's book, The Empty Throne.  Cornwell is known for his historical fiction and this book is from the series dealing with Uthred, made famous in the Netflix series.

This particular excerpt has him talking about Beowulf from a contemporary perspective.


Use this for test prep or if you just need some more at home work during this shut down. 

If you are into all that Anglo-Saxon jazz, I highly recommend this series.  Pick up the first book, The Last Kingodm, and read it here: https://www.amazon.com/Last-Kingdom-Saxon-Chronicles/dp/0060887184

Or watch The Last Kingdom series on Netflix.  It is not a completely spot on retelling, but it is still a good one. 

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)

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 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

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 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!