Monday, November 20, 2023

Gotta Catch Them All (Emily Dickinson Poems, of Course!)


As we go toward the end of the year, we may find ourselves with some awkward pacing.  You can't always test on the last day (and that provides some headaches when students are absent and now have to wait until January to be tested on material they have forgotten) and you don't want to start something new just to have a two week interlude.

Here's a lesson that can be in about half a period.  It's fun and it is content relevant.

If I were teaching American Lit, I would just do this when I get to Emily Dickinson.  But as a British Lit teacher and an AP Lit teacher, we still talk about meter, iambic pentameter, and the effect these have on the poetry.  This especially works well after trying to teach a Shakespeare play if you focused any on how iambic pentameter works.

This presentation has students read three Emily Dickinson poems.  Feel free to go into whatever detail about Emily Dickinson's life you would like to add (she had a killer cake recipe and if done her way is coated with brandy and lasts quite a long time!).  Have the kids experience the poetry and get their thoughts.  They are short and different from what many kids are used to, so can be quite fun for discussions.

Then hit them with the common meter lesson.  This will seem boring until they get to the next slide - 

 I've taught this to standard and inclusion kids and they really perk up to this part.  Once you explain to them that all the above poems can be read to this song because of common meter, they are awed.  You are the cool teacher!

Want more cool points as a teacher?  Break out the karaoke machine and have the kids sing the poem into the microphone.

I provided slides to encourage the re-reading of the poems Pokemon-style.  Then we hit them with a few more songs they may be familiar with to wrap it up.  This can take you anywhere between 15 minutes to 30 minutes (maybe more) depending on how conversation goes.

Have fun with it!  

Friday, November 17, 2023

Freebie - Macbeth Background Slides

 When we read Macbeth, I like to make it as immersive as possible.  We have the fog machine for all the witch scenes, sound effects students, etc.  I am still looking for an affordable lightning and thunder strobe, but none fit the bill (either in what I want from it or the price).  I also need to get my hands on a few items for students to wear or have on their desk while reading (like a crown for whoever is king at the time, etc.).

One thing I do is to have images on our screen to help set the mood.  None of the images are mine, but if you like them, each slide has a link to where the image came from. You can get the slides for free here:

I would love to here what you do to make that Scottish play work in your classroom!

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Image Quiz

 Today's my birthday, so in the spirit of the hobbits, I'll give you a gift!

Don't get too excited, it's a small one, but I think it is something you haven't seen.  I am always on the lookout for alternative online quizzes to compete with Kahoot and Blooket.  This isn't on their level, but is very different, which gives it a nice twist.  Introducing Image Quiz!

The idea behind this is the old adage a picture is worth a thousand words.  I teach a mythology class, so I took an image of the Egyptian death journey that we study in class.  Then I uploaded the image and picked areas on the image to label.  It was super easy to do so.  When students bring up the image, they select START and it will start to give them the labels and they click on the part of the image that reflects that label.  For example, if it says Ammut, they will click the part of the image that has Ammut in it.  

If you want to give it a test run, try my Death Journey one:

This isn't perfect.   While it is a competition for speed, it is not as easy to figure out a clear winner as the top scores list only goes by number correct and not time, so your students may get a faster time than what is on the Top Scores page, but not be listed in the top scores.  Also, tying an image into English isn't as easy as biology or some other lesser course.  :)  However, when you have an image that could be labeled, say a character chart or something, then it serves as something different than what every other teacher in your school is using.  I use this for this one activity only and the students get a kick out of it.   

Give it a shot, and if you create on that could be useful to English classes (or various English electives), then post a link for us in the comments!

Friday, October 20, 2023

Freebie: Racehorse Multiple Choice

 This assignment was done in my AP Lit class, but it works just as well in any class that works with multiple choice reading passage questions (AP Lang, English classes with standardized state tests, SAT/ACT prep, etc.)

Students picked names for their horses and we were off to the races!

TLDR Rules: Students are put into groups and work together to get multiple choice questions correct.  each correct answer moves their horse up a slot.  Each wrong answer moves the teacher's horse up a slot (limit three slots per question).  First to arrive at the finish line gets prizes.

More details are provided on the presentation slides I set up.  You are welcomed to copy it for yourself - no charge!

I would love to know any tweaks you make to make this a better experience for your students!

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Frankenstein Kahoot!

 For a little fun this Halloween, try giving your kids this Kahoot! I made based on the book Frankenstein.  

They do not have to have read the book - in fact, it is designed specifically for students who have not read the book.  The clever students will soon realize that much of what they know about popular culture Frankenstein's monster has little to do with the monster in the novel.

You can get it here:

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Jack's Lament and Teaching Allusions

If you have not seen the movie Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton, you really should.  It is excellent for middle school age children and older.  As far as class goes, there is a particular song in it that is useful for instruction: "Jack's Lament."

A quick bit of background information for those who have never seen the movie. Jack Skellington (pictured to the left) is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town (every holiday has their own town).  He has just had another successful Halloween.  He has, once again, won all the praise of the inhabitants of Halloween Town.  And he is bored out of his mind.  This is the song he sings to express how unhappy he is, even though everything is going great.

Why show this song clip in your class?  To teach allusion. There are several examples and depending on the level of student that you have, they should be able to pick out most.

Here they are in order as they appear in the song:

  1. Sally, the rag golem is an allusion to Frankenstein's monster.  Students might be able to figure that out from the stitch marks.
  2. He is walking through a pet cemetery (Stephen King's Pet Cemetery).
  3. Zero the ghost dog - easy Rudolf allusion
  4. There is a grave stone figure that looks like Mushu from Mulan.  If students make that connection, that's great.  However, The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993 and Mulan came out in 1998, so no true allusion there (though perhaps it inspired the look of the dragon?).
  5. The horse head tombstone is actually an allusion/pun.  It looks like the chess piece knight.  Use the homophone reference for night.
  6. You have two versions of the Scream painting by Edvard Muench.  One tombstone looks similar to the painting and the other looks similar to the Halloween mask designed after the painting.  To really drive it home, he even says that he, "grows so weary of the sound of screams," at the same time that he drapes his arm around one of the tombstones.  Students might recognize the tombstone from the movie Scream, which has a mask based on the same painting.
  7. He calls himself Jack, the Pumpkin King.  Maybe an allusion or at least a play on the idea of a Jack o' lantern?
  8. As Jack stands in front of the moon, it is a reference back to Tim Burton's Batman, when the batwing flies in front of the moon for a special visual effect.
  9. And of course, the Hamlet allusion as he takes off his skull and holds it to recite "Shakespearean quotations."
O.K., did I miss any?  I feel like I did.  If you notice any more, please leave a comment so that I can add it to the list.  I'll give you full credit!

If you have the movie, you'll find this song starting at about 6:10 and ending at 9:45.  If you don't, here is a You Tube version:

You can find the lyrics here if you would like to do a lesson on assonance.  Every second and fourth line of each stanza uses assonance to fake the rhyme.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Who Is the Third Murderer? - The Most Awesome Answer Ever

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth hires two murderers to kill Banquo; however, three murderers show up to the scene.  The original two even make a note of it by asking this third interloper who sent him?  The answer that he was sent by Macbeth himself has a few flaws.

It would seem that Shakespeare meant to do something with this third guy, but never got around to fleshing it out, leaving English teacher geeks around the globe speculating here and there.  This third murderer recognizes Banquo, understands his habits around Macbeth's stables, and was able to give at least some of the original plan to the other two murderers so that they would accept him.  Yet he doesn't seem to know all of the plan since he was unaware of the light going out, and as a result, the main target got away.

You can find some more awesome images from Macbeth (including some really freaky looking witches) by going to the artist's (Amy Hood) web site.

So in my class of regular level students, I use this as an opportunity to get them to think deeper.  They find the clues and facts, list off everyone who could have been the murderer, and then find evidence to support their favorite suspect.  We get into a discussion over what the third murderer's motive was - to help kill Banquo and Fleance or to help Banquo and/or Fleance get away.

I tell them that on their test, they are going to have to accuse one character and then defend their statement.  We joked this year about people putting down Banquo as the murderer - a major feat since he was the one being killed at the time.

One student took this as a challenge and on the test stapled an extra sheet so that he would have enough space to properly accuse Banquo for being the third murderer of Banquo.  Here is his answer:

Banquo.  Banquo fakes his death in a simple process.  He knew from the witches that his child would be king and not Macbeth's children.  He knew that Macbeth was willing to kill to be king.  When Macbeth became king, Banquo knew it was only a matter of time before Macbeth would kill him. Banquo then got body doubles of himself and his son and sent his son out of Scotland.  When he heard of suspicious people meeting with the king, he knew it was time, and trailed the two murderers.  He declared his double to be himself so that the others wouldn't think otherwise.  When his son's double got away and met with Banquo for payment, Banquo killed him to tie up loose ends.  I believe that after the play ended, Banquo got his son to take over Scotland and then ruled through the shadows.

Flawed?  Sure, but he was so excited to prove that I was wrong when I said that Banquo COULDN'T be the third murderer.  It's not often that you get a regular level student to get this passionate about a test answer.  

This same kid followed up this response with the answer to this question:
Who is most at fault for what has happened in this play?

King James I.  Shakespeare wrote this play because of the big stink James made about a supposed "witch" visiting him.  If he had stayed calm and not made a big deal out of it, this play would never have been written.

Folks, it's hard to argue with this kind of logic.  :)

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Shameless Plug: Annotating the Witches from Macbeth (works for all levels)

 I love teaching Macbeth.  We break out the fog machine every time the witches make an appearance.  It's just a lot of fun.  I created a Google presentation for this that I have found to be great for a day or two lesson plans and can be used as a group project or solo.


The presentation presents Act IV scene i where the witches brew the pot and gives students to requirement to look up the ingredients to see what they actually could be or what they symbolize.  How deep you want them to go is up to you and largely based on what your students are capable of.

For my regular level students, I provide them with a list of websites to help them find what I want them to find.  For my AP and honors, I delete the links.

Here's what the second witch's potion looks like:

For my regular classes, it is an exercise in research and introduction to annotating.  For my upper level, I require more information on what the ingredient may symbolize.

If you are interested, you can find it here:

And if you are about to introduce any Shakespeare unit, Macbeth or not, you may find this introduction useful help students grasp iambic pentameter and what it means by using the way the witches talk to show Shakespeare's command of the language:  It's title "Introducing Shakespeare to Reluctant Readers", but to be honest, it works great with my AP kids too.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Using Shirley Jackson to Teach Author's Technique

 The following lesson takes a 90 minute class to teach depending on the discussion you and your kids put forth.  You can, of course, break it up as you see fit.

We started the class by reading Shirley Jackson's "Charles".  If you've never read it, you find a copy here. It's a good break from the stories involving tragedy or death.  I like to have the kids read it in parts (narrator 1, narrator 2, Laurie, Mother, Father, Teacher) since we typically do a lot of individual reading activities. 

The story itself is short and fun and is a good way to teach situational irony and foreshadowing.  After we discuss these terms and we look at the clues we were given that give away the surprise ending (this is a good chance for those who figured it early to look smart by pointing out what it was that led them to see the truth).  At this point, many of the students are wandering how they missed it on the first reading. That's when we tackle how Jackson pulls this off - with narration. 

The mother is out narrator here and her view of her son contradicts elements in the story, but, being a mom, she gladly puts the blinders on and sees the best of her child and quickly dismisses any character flaws as being the result of this Charles kid.  Since she so willingly buys into it and since we have no reason to believe she is an unreliable narrator (and even more so since she does not believe herself to be one), we easily buy into her worldview.  Since she believes her child whole heartedly, we are forgiven if we miss that this kids is an intentionally unreliable narrator when retelling the events of each day to his parents.  Sure we have situational irony and foreshadowing, by the master writer here uses narration to deliver both of these in this story.

Now that they have an appreciation for Jackson, we jump in on her more famous work - "The Lottery".  At this point the students have some knowledge of our author, so may be looking for the ironic twist and try to figure it out.  I give them no warning about the story (other than it is a story that could have gotten me fired on my first year of teaching, but that is a story for a different blog post perhaps).  Since I want to do all of this in a day, I go with the old movie version (takes about 18 minutes):

The first round of discussion goes to what the point of the story is and it is rare that we get a student who off the bat realizes that this is about questioning why we do things.  If you want to hint to your students to help them find the answer, it lies in anything Old Man Warner (my hero) says.  After there has been some discussion on that front, we talk about the background here.  It was written in 1948, so people were not as open to change then as we are now.  That started with the '60s and progressed with the changing technology, but even now students can relate to groups that do not wish to let go of traditions they hold dear.  We talk about all the negative letters it got after being printed in the New Yorker and some of the disturbing reactions (people wanting to know where this took place so that they could go watch it).  

Once that is out of the way, we go for how she did it.  What technique is present here.  The answer, for me at least, is tone.  The first half of this movie has a lighthearted tone.  everyone is joking and catching up, the kids are playing, no worries in the world.  Once Old Man Warner speaks (my hero!), the tone gets more serious and increasingly gets more serious making any joke or light hearted statement seem more and more out of place. Even though we were looking for the ironic twist, we are so thrown off by this shift in tone that it amplifies the results.

After this discussion, we move to a book she is known for - The Haunting of Hill House.  Since this is a one day lesson, we don't have time to jump into the novel, but I do reel them in with this clip from the Netflix series by the same name (I know the two are very different in may ways, but the series does try to bring in the psychological horror like the book does - the ghosts react to the personal trauma the people bring to the house).  It's not too scary and no jump scares.

By the way, earlier in this episode, the boy found a hat in the house and brought it to his room, which you can see in this clip in the shadows.

Now that the students are looking for how the scene is developed, I usually have someone point out that the tension in this scene is the pacing.  The scene moves so slow and it is this that really drives the students to hold their breath like the boy in the clip.

It is almost time for the bell to ring, so we wrap it up by reminding how narration impacts the story in "Charles", tone impacts the story in "The Lottery", and pacing impacts the story in The Haunting of Hill House and they are given a challenge to start looking at how the authors achieve their greatness, not just what is the greatness achieved.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Using "Ordeal by Cheque" to Teach Inference

 Getting students to read between the lines is a bear.  For lower level readers, it is something they have not done before, most likely, yet it is typically heavy on state reading comprehension tests.  For AP level students, it is often something they can do, but do not feel comfortable relying on it for their analysis.

"Ordeal by Cheque" by Wuther Crue is the perfect story for this.  If you have never read it before, do so now.  I'll wait.  You can see a copy here.

With struggling readers, I put this up on the projector or tape large printouts on the white board as well as give them a copy to look at on their own.  Then we start looking at each check and focusing on the small details.  I am always asking what they think is going on.  Any thought is entertained regardless of how outlandish it may be.  We also entertain other students pointing out reason why an idea contradicts something in our text.  When we finally finish, I let them know that all that thinking they were doing about what could be happening in the story is inferring.  From that point forward, the word 'inference' is no longer as scary as it is when they only see it on state test practice.

With AP Lit students, I put them into groups and I only give them one page at a time.  I have printed each check as big as I can and I have them taped to the white board.  Students are in groups of 3 or 4 and start trying to figure out what the "real" story is here.  I ask them to annotate the story on the board by marking down what ideas they feel are important, details they notice, and questions they have.  Some will look up the amounts of money and figure out how much it is in today's dollars.  They always get excited when the first check to Tony Spagoni is revealed.  Again, we focus on what is happening outside of the checks.  In the end the take away is that all of these thoughts that they have is where good writers like to lay their story.  The text is great, but what happens between paragraphs and off screen (so to speak) is just as rich.

I have noticed that when I use this with standard classes, they are fine to stick with their class-created interpretation.  The AP kids, however, have thought of so many ways to interpret the events that they want to know what the "real" story is.  When I let them know that this is all of the story they get, they are frustrated (but not in a negative way).  The first year I did this and saw how amusing it was that they felt that there was not enough closure, I asked them if they had ever read "The Lady or the Tiger".  I was shocked to find out that they had not, so for fun, a few days later I gave them the story to pick apart, but kept the final paragraph off of their copy and sealed in an enveloped pinned to the wall.  The board was labeled LADY and TIGER and they had to provide their evidence for which one they thought was behind the door.  They scoured the story and when we only had a few minutes left in class, I read the final paragraph to them.  Let's just say I was lucky the bell rang to release class!  :)

Thursday, September 7, 2023


Chiasmus is a literary term where words, grammar, or ideas are repeated in reverse order.

A good example of this is any dialogue of The Sphinx from the movie Mystery Men.

Famous examples of this term:

"Fair is foul and foul is fair." - The Witches, Macbeth, Shakespeare

"By the day frolic, and by the night dance." - Samuel Johnson

“Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” - John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

A Different Type of Reading Check - Using Spark Notes to Check Reading

 Checking for reading is always tricky.  You want to reward those who read and at the same time, you don't want to punish the kid who struggles to remember what they read.  My typical fall back for lower level classes is the open note quiz.  That way they can use their notes (if they bothered to take any) to help them recall what they read.

However, I saw the other day on a Facebook group someone sharing an alternative that they like to use that I found quite clever.  The teacher's name is Katie Jo and this is all her idea, not mine, though I wish it was!

The Spark Note Check

Give the students a copy of the Spark Notes summary of the chapters that were assigned.  Ask students to fill in a detail or two (or I guess however many you wish to assign) that the summary missed.  She says that she changes up the summary source so that students don't just use Cliff Notes or something else to get around the Spark Notes short comings.  She also said that the only downfall she's encountered is that it takes longer to grade than a traditional quiz.

I love it and can't wait to try it.  If you have an alternative way to check for reading, please post in the comments!

Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Shape of Stories

 I like to use this to introduce to my AP Lit kids the patterns that stories follow.  I usually pair it with this article "The Seven...Actually Nine Basic Plots According to Christopher Booker" by Glen C. Strathy.  The video is from a talk Kurt Vonnegut Jr. used to give on how stories follow the same patterns.

When I teach AP Lit, we go over the basic tenets from the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, which is an interesting book for any teacher of English to check out.  It will tell you what you are most likely already doing while reading, but by brining it to the forefront of your mind, it helps you to focus better.  Some AP teachers assign this book to their kids, but I would rather spend our time reading with reading literature and I can lecture in class on what is in the book.  I use this particular video when I start with the Memory, Symbol, Pattern chapter.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Tech Tuesday: Making a background image on multiple pages of a table in Google Docs - or - Use the Page Break!

 So I had this idea to make a chart for my students to fill out on how Heathcliff is a Byronic hero in Wuthering Heights.  I also wanted them to find two other Byronic heroes from sources of their own choosing.

I chose to use Google Docs for this mainly because my new school computer does not have Microsoft Word and I am too cheap to buy it.  I will throw in a plug for Open Office which is a decent free alternative.

Creating the table is no problem, but I wanted it to look fancy, so I imported in an image for the background of the first page.

Getting this image to fit here was not much of a problem either.  I set the image to be behind the text and I selected FIX POSITION ON PAGE in the edit box that appeared under it (though sometimes it appears above).

That was the easy part.  The problem I had came about when I tried to put an image as the background of the second page.  For some reason, every time I tried to move a new photo into the table, it would eventually jump to the top of the first page.  I tried:
1. changing where I was importing the image
2. deleting the table that continued onto the second page and creating a new table instead for the rows on the second page
3. creating the second page as a separate document and then copying and pasting it into the original document

All of these resulted in either the image jumping to the first page or disappearing altogether.

I did get it to work, though.

I was about to give up, but I tried one more thing.  I went back to each page being a separate table rather than just wrapping over to the next page.  Then, between the two, I selected INSERT then BREAK then PAGE BREAK.  This puts an automatic stop and will always make the next page its own page.  

An odd thing to make a blog entry over, but if you like to play around with the background images then maybe this will help you out in the future.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Daily Dose

The following can apply to any state reading test though it was designed specifically with the NC EOC in mind.

The Short:

If you could use some simple, quick reading comprehension questions that gets updated daily, go here!

The Long:

When I switched schools about 17 years ago, I was hired specifically to work with kids who were destined to not pass the English I EOC.  For those of you not in North Carolina, an EOC is just our state exams.  Students need a 3 out of 4 to pass it and my students were predicted to make a 1 (based on previous state tests from elementary and middle school).  I did have a few 2s.  My principal flat out told me when he hired me that my job was to get these kids to pass the test.

Back then, if you failed the state exam, you failed the entire course.  Lots of pressure for kids who struggle with reading.  Lots of pressure for the new(ish) teacher.  I started looking for samples, test specs, etc. and ran into a brick wall. I managed to pick up a few scraps from here to there.

I also realized that having the kids read a whole passage was one task and having them figure out how to answer a reading comprehension was a completely different task.  The biggest problem with the second task was that I was struggling to get them to complete the first task.

So I started writing short reading passages on the white board with multiple choice questions.  Super short reading passages.  Super super short reading passages.  That way we could spend time focusing on how to break down that question, how that literary term worked, etc.

But I'm lazy.  It's rule #1 in my class.

Ok, there is a story behind the "Lord Alford" thing that I do not have time to get into now.  Maybe later.

I didn't want to have to keep writing those on the board.  So I began putting it on a blog so that I would have it year after year.  Then I realized that other teachers were finding it and using it because there was just NO RESOURCES FOR THE STINKING NCEOC! 

The test has changed, somewhat.  It is now in the 10th grade (poor kids who had to make that transition and get it two years in a row) and students no longer need to pass it to be promoted.  I also no longer teach the test, but I have decided to keep the blog going.

Over the years I have had quite a few people tell me they are happy that the blog is there.  Some shoot me emails when I forget to update it (I do it in chunks, recycling the questions each semester), and some who have sent me questions to add to the mix (I love those teachers!).  I also have quite a few that have seen fit to get mad at me because they didn't like the answer or do not like the daily format because they wanted to find one specific question or other.  People like to complain. I also got reported to my principal, superintendent, and state superintendent for "teaching to the test" by some person I've never met, but that's a story for a different time too.

So, take some time to enjoy the questions (or send me a nasty email about the way I am doing it), make some of your own and share it, or have your kids create some themselves and share with me the good ones to be immortalized forever and ever.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Hills Like White Elephants

 I just finished this with my AP Lit class, but I have had a lot of fun with this story and this exercise with honors and regular level classes as well.

If you are not familiar with the story, you are welcome to read my file on it here.  It is slightly altered, but only in formatting to make it easier for the students to read.  I broke up the dialogue into separate paragraphs. It is also color coded by speaker.

A day or two (or more) before we read the story, I have already gone over my archetype notes with them.  I feel that archetypes are often easy gateways into breaking down meaning in poems or stories.  However, I have done this successfully without the notes and either way, before we read the story, I give them no heads up that this is going to be an archetype/symbolism lesson.

In fact, the only thing I tell them beforehand is that Hemmingway was known for writing on a fourth grade reading level, so this shouldn't be a strain on them (this is because I am a mean teacher).

Then we read the story and I ask them what is is about.  Only once has someone guessed the true nature of the "operation".  I entertain all possibilities (even the correct one should someone guess it) and then say, "Well, let's see if the setting can help us out."

Students are instructed to go through and find any details about what this place looks like.  There are some potentially conflicting details on tree placement, but we just make a judgement call and go with it.  I have students tell me what they see.  Each time we get a slightly different image, but the gist of it always looks like this:

But at this point, just the image, not the words.

I will acknowledge what you are all thinking right now.  I could have been an art teacher.  I do agree my skills are quite above par.

Once we have the setting, I ask them if this changes anything.  Of course, it doesn't, so it is time to reveal the wonders of symbolism.  We break it down usually from top to bottom (but waiting on the hills for last):

Sun - truth, life, goodness

Shade - lies, death, evil

Trees - happiness, life, paradise

Ebro River - time passing, life changing

Grain - happiness, life, paradise

But the grain is dry - sadness, hopelessness, death

Warm Breeze - warning, inspiration

Train Tracks - major life decision

So we understand now that this is a decision that deals with life and death, but the girl can choose one way or the other, so, maybe not her life or death.

Usually someone picks up on this being a choice about an abortion.  That opens discussion about a great many things - his attitude, her attitude, etc.

Finally we will reveal that a 'white elephant' refers to a story (maybe factual) of a Chinese emperor that would gift a white elephant to nobles that caused him problems.  Social expectations require that the noble take care of the gift; however, care for an elephant is too expensive and would often ruin the troublesome courtier.  So today, a 'white elephant' means something unwanted.  The White Elephant Christmas game is played after the holiday by people taking gifts that they do not want and wrapping them back up for the game.

If students have not gotten the abortion aspect, they will now.  

The only thing that remains at this point is one student will raise the question of why they are drinking so much alcohol if she is pregnant.  The story was written in 1927.  People didn't understand fetal alcohol syndrome until 1973.

Monday, May 15, 2023

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.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

It's That Time of Year Again - State Test Time!!!!

Do you have a state mandated reading comprehension test for your course?  At this point you have done everything you can do to increase their ability to read, now it is time to supercharge their test taking ability!

There is no charge for this activity, just download it from the Extreme English Teacher Teachers-Pay-Teachers store.  If you like it, I would appreciate a positive review.  Those really do help!

Standardized reading tests are a joke, if you ask me.  We are requiring students to spend an hour and a half to two hours focusing on boring reading passages. What this activity does well is to give students the ability to focus a little longer to get another passage in before their brain fries from your oh-so-wonderful state test.  The methods in there were honed in my classroom and I consistently had my non-motivated non-readers score higher than expected on the NC English II EOC and the NCFE for English IV (my scores were in the blue repeatedly, if you are a fellow NC teacher and knows what that means).  The method works! 

If you used it, let me know in the comments and again - positive reviews on Teachers-Pay-Teachers are ALWAYS APPRECIATED!

Monday, May 1, 2023


I don't remember where I found this, but I was cleaning out my folders and ran across this image of gun shot onomatopoeias.  I imagine it might be a fun image to use in explaining the literary term 'onomatopoeia' or for a creative writing class.

Going to the tumblr site on the first panel shows this guy James Chapman has a couple of "in other languages" cartoons like this.  Check it out!

Also, while writing this post on an onomatopoeia, a memory of a video game commercial from the '90s resurfaced.  I think the message of the commercial is "Don't be an English nerd, play video games instead," but I might be wrong.  :)

Monday, April 24, 2023

AP Literature Hell

Today, my students went to hell.  Literarily speaking, of course!  

I wish I could say that this was my idea, but I just took the concept and ran with it.

This lesson is to help us review for the AP Literature exam, but could be adapted for other purposes.  All my students knew was that the calendar said "AP Hell" for today's lesson, and for some odd reason, they feared the worst.  :)

I decorated our door for the right inspiration.

Yeah, I need to work on those flames!  They look too much like hand- cut-out turkeys!  Then, of course, the right ambiance with both a fog machine (complete with red light) and sounds of hell coming from the tv.

Pro-tip - put the video into a Google Slides presentation set to run automatically when that slide is put up.  That way you don't have the ads interfering with your video.

The funny this is every student who was not in my class were ohhing and ahhing over the fog coming out of the room.  My students, expecting the worst, sighed and walked in waiting for some insane AP multiple choice practice!

Then I gave them this handout that has all the levels of Dante's Inferno on it.  I told them to write down all the characters they could remember from what we read in class - no matter how minor the character may seem.

After giving them some time, the fun began.  First I started by telling them the story of Dante being trapped in the Woods of Error and the three beasts and Beatrice and Virgil and all that good stuff!  Then I told them about the Vestibule with it's awful punishment.  That's where they jumped in.  I had all the levels written on the board and I wrote up on the board characters that thought would be there (Banquo was a unanimous first choice).  Then we continued into hell proper, level by level.  Each time I told them the punishment and they suggested characters that belonged there.  Every once and a while, we had debates on if a character should be included in hell (we decided that the old blind man in Frankenstein and Myrtle's dog from The Great Gatsby belonged in heaven) or if they should be moved to a different level as we descended.  They became determined to have at least one character in every level.  

For the finale, we decided to put the three worst sinners in Satan's mouth, like in The Inferno.  They chose Macbeth, Victor Frankenstein, and the author of "The Lady or the Tiger".  They were so mad when they read that story!  

It's a great idea and worked wonderfully as a review of all the characters since they had to explain why Ozymandias belonged level 8 or why Emily (from "The Rose for Emily") belonged in level 9 and so forth.  I wish I could properly credit the person who had the idea to begin with, but here it is if you can find use for it!

By the way, that white board is the one I added on the cheap in my room at the beginning of the year.  It still works great!  

Friday, April 7, 2023

Shameless Plug: One Shots

As we head into the fourth quarter, you find yourself in need of a one-day lesson.  You can get a couple of them from the EET Teacher-Pay-Teachers Store:

Writing Formal Emails - walks your kids through how to format and write an email for when they need to sound professional.  Good for leaving with a substitute since the students can walk themselves through the presentation.

Title Punctuation and Capitalization - by high school, they should already know this, but most do not.

Practicing Inference Using Proverbs - Three one-day activities - students can work together or on their own to figure out the meaning behind these sayings.

Context Clues Practice - American Flag Edition - can they figure out the meaning of these words used in the Pledge of Allegiance and the "Star Spangled Banner"?  

Of course, here at Extreme English Teacher, we are not out to take all of your hard-earned paycheck, you can search the tag LESSON IDEAS and QUICK LESSONS get some freebies!

Monday, April 3, 2023

AP Lit Freebie - Peer Editing

 This is my first year teaching AP Lit.  I'm loving it!  I don't have a lot of materials and find myself constantly creating content or scouring on the web to find something someone else ahs created.  Last night, I decided to try and find something to help my students peer edit one of their FRQs.  I thought I might share it here for free for anyone who wants to try it. I would appreciate any feedback on making it better.

It's on TPT, but it is a free resource:

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Different Side of Auschwitz

 If you teach Night, Maus, or other Holocaust-centric book, you know that videos can be powerful tools.  Here is a video of a different nature - the resort at Auschwitz.  Yes, you read that correctly.  There was an actual resort at Auschwitz.

The video comes from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  It is of a photo album of a Nazi officer who worked in Auschwitz during the time that Elie Wiesel was there.  It shows a resort that was on the premises where Nazi soldiers could hang out with women, lounge on a deck, and even participate in sing-alongs.  It is absolutely fascinating and horrifying at the same time to see that while unspeakable suffering was going on, these soldiers were having a grand time relaxing.

If you are teaching the term juxtaposition in your classroom, this would be a moment where you could see juxtaposition in real life.  It floors me every time I see this the complete disconnect between these men and women with what is happening within an easy walk from the premises.

Monday, March 6, 2023

How Do I Love Thee?

Today is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's birthday.  She is known almost as much for love letters as she is for her poetry.  For those of you who need a refresher, Elizabeth (and her ten siblings) was forbidden by her father to ever marry and have children.  When Robert Browning read her poetry, he fell in love with her and began to write her.  Between the two of them, they wrote 570 letters to each other before they ran away and eloped.  They both kept all the love letters and the door to the Barrett house which half of those letters came through, was saved before the house was torn down.  I believe it is kept at Wellesley College Library and was a popular place for college students to slip Valentine cards until it was sealed shut.

So why did Elizabeth's father want to stop his bloodline?  Well, according to one scholar, Julia Markus, in her book Dared and Done, It might be because either her grandfather or great grandfather has a child with a Jamaican slave. Either he was such a racist that he did not want his bloodline tainted or, being an abolitionist, he was ashamed of his white bloodline and wished to end it.

Either way, it was the reason for Elizabeth and Robert's secrecy.  Her father never forgave her for running off and getting married and having a child.  She wrote to him often and he always returned her letters unopened.

Here is a reading comprehension practice for her poem "How Do I Love Thee?"

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Teaching the Graphic Novel to Struggling Readers

Want to skip to the lesson idea?  Jump down to the picture and start reading from there!

Comics have a bad reputation.  That stems all the way back to the late '50s when a guy named Dr. Frederick Wertham wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent.  It details how comic books cause kids to be violent, disruptive, anxious, and homosexual.  It caused quite the stir and I could go on and on about it, but I will spare you today.  There were senate hearings and self-imposed censorship on it. Comics almost went out of business because of it and if it were not for the Marvel surge led by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, they may just have disappeared.  

Several generations have passed since then and each generation has been more open to comics as a legitimate genre, but even so, many teachers think it is good only for students who struggle.  "Well, reading comics is better than nothing..." is a phrase thrown about quite often.  True, there are some low-brow comics out there, just as there are some low-brow novels, stories, movies, poems, etc.  However, there are also quite a bit of complex stories being told.  Maus and Persepolis are two that have broken the ranks.  Classical Comics does and EXCELLENT job adapting Shakespeare (and you can get them with the full text).  A good comic does more than illustrate the story - like a movie, the images should assist in telling the story, so that the words and images blend.  One without the other is no good.

One problem I've encountered with teaching Persepolis to struggling readers is that they often have trouble following which word balloon to read next and following along with who is actually speaking.  To combat this, for some of the chapters we are reading, I photocopy the pages and highlight the parts and let them read it like a play.  This way they get to model how to read and are able to focus on the story being told.  We don't do this for all chapters, but with the group I have now, I will probably do it for just under half of the chapters. 

If you are interested in discussing with your class the history of the CCA and Dr. Wertham's book, you can use my presentation.  I have basic notes on it because I was not setting it up for others, but it should be enough for you to spark some discussion.

By the way, what is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel?  Well, technically graphic novels tend to be longer and self-contained, but in reality "graphic novel" is often used by those who are embarrassed to be reading comics and want to make them sound more "literary".

Monday, February 27, 2023

Toughest Tongue Twisters

Tongue twisters are fun for using as grammar practice sentences or for teaching literary terms like alliteration, consonance, and assonance.  I found a two contenders for the title of toughest tongue twister in the English language.  

Researchers at MIT created this to be the hardest:

Pad kid poured curd pulled cod.

The Guinness Book of World Records says that last one is the hardest.  

The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick.

The official Extreme English Teacher position is that the 'Sheik' one is far tougher than the MIT one.

Got a favorite to share or want to weigh in on these?  Leave a comment!

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Similes and Supervillains

Most students know that a simile is a comparison using "like" or "as", but we more enlightened teachers also know that the comparison can be made using "than".  Most of us don't teach "than" with similes because they are not as obvious or common as the other two.

I bring this up only because I ran across on in a book recently.

"I was stiller than the men who got an eyeful of Medusa."

The phrasing is done that way because this is a crime noir novel.  In fact, if you are a superhero fan and a crime noir fan, I have a book for you!

For a guy like me, who can shrug off bullets and lift seven tons, there's no better profession than powered crime, and no greater burg to practice it in than Gold Coast City. But after ten years of tossing Buicks at heroes I wised up, took the black cape off my back, and hung out a shingle. Only instead of Dark Deeds Done Daily, this one reads Dane Curse, PI. Now I work cases for the dark denizens I was once counted among. The problems they got aren't the kind that cops care about, so I do what I can, because sometimes even the unjust deserve a little justice.  

I do not know Matt Abraham, nor get any kick back for promoting his book.  I just enjoyed the book for some fun reading. Here it is on Amazon.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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 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, February 10, 2023

Two Fun Test/Quiz Ideas

 I saw this on Facebook, so I cannot take credit for it.  I have also lost it on Facebook and cannot give credit to where it is due.  :(  

But the ideas are too interesting to pass up, so here they are:

This first one allows students to pick the number of points allotted for each question.  No question can be zero and you can set a limit on how much one question can be worth.  This gives the students a feeling of power over their performance and it gives the teacher a snapshot of where class confidence it (especially if the class overwhelmingly picks one question to low ball).    For my regular ed kids who will only see this as a nightmare to figure out mathematically, I am thinking about giving them some cheap stickers and they can put a certain amount on questions that they want to boos the worth of.  I am also thinking of using a variation of this on my next AP test.  I'll have a page with three short answer questions and they can pick one to be worth 3 points, one to be worth 5 points, and one to be worth 7 points (or something like that).

The other one is:

In this version, a student brings up their test/quiz and I look it over and tell them how many they got incorrect.  I do not tell them which ones are incorrect, though.  The student can then go back to their seat and try to figure out which ones they get wrong.  This works best with easy to grade questions like multiple choice.

I'm excited to try these out.  It will bring a bit of variety to the class and allow students a chance to showcase their skills and learn from their mistakes.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Things Women in Literature Have Died From

 You may have seen this around on the Internet:

I've been searching to find where these are from.  I have found the following based on what I have read and what I have found other people's attempts to answer it:

cold hands - La Boheme
beautiful face - I saw some say "The Lady of Shallot", but I think "The Birth-Mark" might be more accurate
missing slippers - ???
wrist fevers - Beth from Little Women tends to be the go to for several of these.  I have not read it, so I am not sure.
night brain - Anna Karenina
going outside at night in Italy - Daisy Miller
shawl insufficiency - Beth from Little Women again
too many pillows - Desdemona from Othello??
garden troubles - "Rapaccini's Daughter"
someone said "No" very loudly while they were in the room - ???
letter reading fits - ???
drawing room anguish - ???
not enough pillows - Wuthering Heights??
haven't seen the sea in a long time - Lord of the Rings (Boromir's mother) and "The Awakening"
too many novels - Madam Bovery
pony exhaustion - Gone with the Wind
strolling congestion - ???
sherry served too cold - ???
ship infidelity - Far Side of the World
spent more than a month in London after growing up in Yorkshire - ???
clergyman's dropsy - ???
flirting headaches - ???
river unhappiness - Hamlet
general bummers - Tess of the Dubervilles ???
knitting needles too heavy - Beth from Little Women again
mmmf - didn't know what this meant until I started looking for answers to this
beautiful chestnut hair - "The Adventures of the Crooked Man" (Sherlock Holmes story)
spinal degeneration as a result of pride - ???
parents too happy - ???
the unpleasantness - ???

So now, I need your help - what are the rest of them?  Any thoughts?  I am also trying to track down the origin of the image.  If I can, I may be able to get the originator's thoughts on it.