Thursday, September 30, 2021

Banned Book Week 2021

 In honor of this being Banned Book Week, here is a graphic showing the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2021 as charted by the ALA:

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Shameless Plug - Teaching Inference Using Proverbs and Wise Sayings

 There's a new product on the Extreme English Teacher store:

When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Lewis wrote this saying on the board:

A dog with a golden collar is still a dog.

Then we had to each say out loud what we thought it meant.  My last name starts with A, so when I was in elementary school, that meant I was first on the list.  I said I thought it meant that no matter how a person dresses, they are still the same person inside.  Everyone else in the class said it had to do with a dog and Tommy (my particular bully in elementary school) went out of his way to make me feel stupid for thinking it was about a person when obviously it was about a dog.  It was a traumatic experience for me at the time, being called out like that in front of my peers.

Mr. Lewis let it go until everyone had spoken and then revealed that it was indeed about people, not about dogs.  He had some lesson to go with it that I long forgot (I told you, the class bully made me feel miserable and the justification of being right was a smaller reward than the price of feeling stupid for ten minutes of class time).  Though the lesson never left me, I did not think much about it until I became a ninth grade teacher and saw that my students were much like Tommy and friends (sans bullying).

Why did that seem obvious to me back then?  Well, I am quite the clever clogs, but I think it had much more to do with me being an avid reader.  I was just to reading between the lines.  My struggling students, however, were not.  So I resurrected the idea a few times over the years.  Once with Celtic proverbs, once with the teaching of Confucius, and once with the wise sayings as Saadi.

I've had great success with these and have used them as individual assignments, group work, and sometimes before a state test as whole-class activities.  They are great for getting kids to think figuratively.  Since the sayings are all short, struggling readers can focus in on the exact phrase and not get lost in a paragraph or page of text.

Or just keep some ready for when you have a 30 minute section of time that you need to fill or in your emergency sub plans folder.

So head on over to the store and try it out! 

Get the activity HERE!

Become a follower of the store (I promise not to bombard you with emails - I hate that and that is certainly NOT extreme!)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Doth the Hoke Poke Forsooth!

 Found this on Facebook today and thought it was worth a share!  Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Sleepy Hollow Lesson - Context Clues and Literary Terms

 This is a lesson that provides context clues practice along with literary term identification.  If you have ever seen the Disney movie The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, though you might only remember the second half as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", then you know Bing Crosby is laying out all sorts of high-end vocabulary words for this cartoon.

The story works well with a short story unit or with American Literature.  The lesson works well for practicing context clues and literary term identification.  That means no matter your grade level, this may be right for you.

First of all, let's talk about showing the video in class.  I'm sure you are familiar with Disney's relentless pursuit of copyright violations.

So is it legal to show a Disney movie in class?  The answer is yes, with a 'but'.

Here is the legal copyright information:

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;

What does this mean?  It means you CAN show a video in class as long as:

1. it is in a classroom or room specifically designated for class in face-to-face teaching,

2. it is used as a part of the curriculum and teaches what is consistently taught in the course,

3. it is a legally obtained copy.

Don't believe me?  Read the actual law here.

Those of you old school might remember that we were told no video can be shown in the classroom unless PPR rights were obtained (which meant a $20 video suddenly cost you $99), but that was never the case.  Fair Use kicks in with ANY movie.

The problem for teachers comes in when teachers pop in a video as a day off rather than as a part of the lesson.  You guys here are all EXTREME teachers and I know you don't do amateurish hacks like that.

Your district may have beefed up the rules for their own purposes, so you may want to check with them or just beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.

Go back and look at #1 - this only applies to face-to-face teaching.  There are rulings about virtual teaching, but they are different and if this is you, then I encourage you to find that out.

So, with it being literature, vocabulary, and terms, this checks all the boxes for #2.

That brings us to #3 - the legal copy.  Purchase the DVD. This does NOT apply to streaming Netflix or Disney+ since they have in their end-user agreement that you agreed to when purchasing the subscription, wording that prevents use for classrooms for whatever reason.

The portion of the movie that we would watch is 25 minutes long, which means you are only using 37% of the total run-time of the actual movie (the first 63% being the Mr. Toad segment).

I guess you could skip the video portion and go straight to the lesson, though I think it would be harder to do in the class.

The lesson can be found here:

I tried out the lesson platform on Quizizz rather than the basic quiz platform.  It is nice.  Think of it as merging Google Slides and Quizizz together.  Turns out I didn't really need it for this particular lesson, but it didn't hurt.  I do know a lesson that I will want to use it for in the future, though.

Last thing - two of the questions are poll and they do not count toward the grade (if you wish to take this for a grade).  The polls ask students to make predictions/guesses on the story. One of them is to make a guess on what they think the actual story says when it comes to who Katrina picked at the end of the party.  That is not given in the movie.  The correct answer is - Brom.  She is never really interested in Ichabod and merely uses him the entire story to make Brom fight harder for her.

Speaking of the original text, you may wish to pair this up with it.  Here is an abridged copy of the original story: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Found Among the Papers of the Late Diedrich Knickerbocker

And, if you wish, here is a transcript of all that is said during the movie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


Looking for a poem to teach, a way to teach literary terms, or just want a  quick lesson to fill a gap?  Look no further than "Metaphors" by Plath.  I'm sure you've read and may have taught it before, but in case you are not familiar with it, here it is:

by Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

This works really great with a SmartBoard-like projection or even an overhead since marking up the poem as you read it as a class is easier for the students to visualize.

Students tend to be intrigued by it when you build it up as a mystery to be solved.  You can even up the ante by putting something up to win for the first person to figure it out.  With that objective, I do not tell them this is about a pregnancy.

First thing, have students read the poem to themselves and have them write down what they think the poem is about, just so they have an reason to try and process it.

Title - Metaphors are often missed by students because, while it is easy to understand most comparisons, many metaphors leave off what is being compared, like in this case.  We get one of the objects for comparison, but not the whole thing.

Line 1 - Plath wastes no time handing out the clues.  I say to the kids, "This poem is way over nine syllables!  What is this about?"  Eventually some student will figure out that the line is nine syllables long.  Then I have students check the other lines and yep, all are nine syllables exactly.  A clever student might point out that there are nine lines.  A super clever student might point out that there are nine letters in the title.  So we mark on our clue board that nine must be important.

Line 2 - We take the time to figure out what ponderous means.  I usually at this point do not point out that people live in a house.  I wait and let someone pick up on that or we just move further.

Line 3 and 4 - We take the time to look up what "tendrils" means.  Then maybe draw a quick doodle to get a visual.  Students usually focus on these first few lines about she is fat.  We do focus on the tendrils are pale because they must not be getting sunlight.

Line 5 - So they start to put together that whatever she is, she's getting bigger.

Line 6 - Students often have to be told what minted means.

Line 7 - We touch on what it means to be a "means to an end".  My more rural students at this point figure it out since they know what it means for a cow to be in calf. I sometimes skip over this clue to prolong it a bit, if no one points it out.

Line 8 - While apples do come in the green variety, I ask them if we take the idea that apples are typically red, what do you think happens if you eat a bunch of unripe one?

Line 9 - With abortion being in the spotlight, you can choose how close you want to dance on this line that there is no getting off.  However, I do like to talk about getting on a train is an archetype for a major life change/decision (like Polar Express).

If students figure it out early, you may want to see if they notice how her viewpoint of this situation seems to spiral downward as the poem goes on.  At first, she talks about how fat she feels, but by the end, she feels trapped with no way out of the situation.

I often do this with ninth graders, since the idea of being pregnant isn't the first thought that pops into their mind, but I have used this before with other grade levels with much success.

If you are looking for more texts to use in order to teach students inference, try Ordeal by Cheques.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Eclipse Crossword

If you have not found Eclipse Crossword, you need to.

It is a crossword maker that is easy to use and free.  There are no ads, no spam, nothing.  It allows you to customize it and it leaves you wondering, "How can this be free?"

Just go to

*WARNING* If you've bought a crossword maker program - do NOT go to the Eclipse Crossword web site.  You will curse yourself for wasting money.

Let's take a moment to review it's features:-

  • Free
  • Allows you to use your words
  • Allows you to save your word lists to access easier in the future
  • With a mere click of a button, it will create a new lay out.  I will create ten or more crossword puzzles for each class.  Sure, the clues are the same, but students are forced to at least read the clue before cheating and finding the answer from a friend, which is the whole intent of assigning the puzzle to begin with - to make the students read the clues and attach a word to it.
  • You can tell it to print out a variety of formats - Empty puzzle grid, word bank, clues, answer key, and a list of clues with answers (I like this last feature - just the other day I had a student who lost their notebook and with it, their vocabulary lists so I just printed this up and viola!  She had all the words and all the definitions and it took me less than one minute).
  • You can save it as a webpage both static for printing and interactive for completing online.
  • You can even save it in a format that allows you to open it in Microsoft Word (fun for making the border look nice).
Plus, It's an easy to create assignment for when you have a sub or a review session.   You also do not need an account nor do you need to have your students create an account to use it.

No, I do not work for them nor do I know anyone there.  I found it several years ago and have used it often.  What a great program!

Grade for Eclipse Crossword . . .    A+

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Six-Question Literary Term Quiz

Here's a simple little exercise that is useful for a lot of reasons - the 6 question term quiz.

I find it is easier to talk about literature if we understand the same terms.  I use these terms and sometimes add to them if a particular term comes up in class discussion.

To help drive these words home, I sometimes let them play Quizlet Live or Blooket with them (if you haven't tried Blooket yet, what are you waiting for?  Go for the Gold Chest one).

Step 1 - Keep it simple

I keep it just six questions.  Typically, I ask four or five questions that are just a definition that they should write the term to (for example: A comparison using like or as - they just write down SIMILE).  For the remaining question or two, I sometimes give questions from the Daily Dose of EOC - simple and short reading comp and literary term identification practices.

Step 2 - Keep it safe (grade-wise)

This is meant to be a practice (despite my quiz wording) so I keep the weight of this low and as non-punitive as possible.  This is my scale:

The fact that they could miss a few and not fail gets them to buy into it and try a little.  I typically teach the lowest level and the highly unmotivated students, so the buy-in is where most of my work comes in.  I also capped the grade of 40 for trying to answer all six, even if they get it wrong, back when I taught 9th graders.  I noticed many freshmen developed a "if I don't try, then I didn't fail" mindset.  This gives them a reason to participate.

Step 3 - Make it fun

Once we complete question #6, I give them a quirky extra credit question and then have them turn their papers face down and draw a smiley face.  The first time I do that, they usually don't draw or just put dots and a smile.  I started using the smiley face method long ago to prevent people from looking onto other people papers since I would always have a few kids ask me to repeat questions.  When I took the time to repeat, other students took the time to look around for answers.  Now, I know some teachers have a real problem with extra credit and if that's you, then more power to you.  My philosophy is that a few points here or there doesn't do a lot in the grand scheme, but can do wonders for a kid who doesn't normally score high on school work.  When we grade it, I say, "If the smiley face has..." and then insert whatever I feel like that day - a nose, teeth, hair, shoes, etc.  If there is a question about if what the kid drew was actually the correct feature, I always allow the grader to decide.  I'll have kids miss all the questions, but they get excited when they get the 3 points because they included freckles!  Plus, once I see that everyone is working on a smiley face, I know that we can move on to the grading.  If one of my answers is onomatopoeia, I always have the grader throw in an extra 3 points if it is spelled correctly - but I never take off for spelling on these as long as we can figure out what term the kid was trying to spell.

Step 4 - Make it easy on you

Have the kids switch papers and grade it right there in class.  I always have them write their own name at the bottom of the paper they received.  Do some kids try and cheat with their friends?  Possibly.  It's not much and usually I can spot that pretty easy.  Having the kids grade it in class does three things: 

  1. It gives the kids instant feedback.  This is super valuable for them and helps them to remember the term better, especially if you repeat a few particular terms often over several quizzes.
  2. Adds a little, not a lot, of peer pressure.  That sounds like it would be a bad thing, but they tend to trade papers with people they feel comfortable with, so I'll hear friends encouraging/ribbing each other, which increases their performance.  
  3. Makes it a quick grade for you!  These things take about 15 minutes or less, so they are also great time fillers if you realize that your planned lesson didn't take as long as you thought it would.

I also do not worry about making these up.  If a kid misses the quiz, it just goes down as an exempt or omit.  Why?  I give so many of these things that it is not worth scheduling a make up.  The more of these a kid does, the better it is for their grade because it provides more grades to fill out their average.

Step 5 - Make it tied with sports

I live in North Carolina and if you know anything about that, then you know that this is college basketball country!  In my neck of the woods, you are pretty much either a UNC fan or a Duke fan.  I love the best, so I am a Tarheel through and through!  So, during basketball season, the students know that when UNC plays, that determines if we have a quiz the very next school day.  When UNC wins, no quiz the next day.  If, by some odd chance, they lose, then take out that sheet of paper!

It's simple, but it works wonders for the students and for me.  Give it a shot and let me know if you have similar exercises.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Shamed by Your English?

Several years ago, I came across this ad in a 1967 comic book.  I cannot remember which comic book, but knowing me, it was probably a Spider-Man one!

You may have seen it in other magazines.  It ran for about three decades in various comics and magazines, all with differing opening titles.  Sometime Don Bolander is holding his glasses to the right, sometime left.  It even got plagiarized and used in England!

You can still buy it!  No, don't print out the advert.  You will need to go to Amazon where it continues to get rave reviews!

Actually, in all fairness, my copy wasn't very clean, so I found a crisper image on the Internet (because everything is on the Internet!) here.