Monday, July 1, 2024

Simple, but Helpful Tip

 I hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far!  We'll be back in the swing of things before anyone knows it!

Here's one little handy-dandy tip - when you are signing up for online programs that are not tied into your school's funding (like Kahoot, Common Lit, Socrative, Quizizz, etc.), do not use your school email address.  Why?  Because hopefully you will find your teaching career to be long and fulfilling.  As such, it is likely that you will need to switch schools at sometime in your career from any variety of reasons.  If you have it under your school email address, you lose everything or have to scramble to switch accounts over before you lose email service (they are usually pretty quick to turn that sucker off) and even if you do so, think about how many services you have!  

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Why I Teach File

My school is wrapping up this year, so I want to leave all of you with this annual reminder/advice:

As your year comes to a close, you will be getting a few messages from parents or kids about how you made an impact.  Some years you get more, some years you get less.  You need to get a file folder (or a box or whatever) and label it WHY I TEACH.  Put them in there.

Why?  Well, if you are a new teacher, the first five years are the hardest.  Sometimes you need a reminder.  Later on in your career, you will have moments when you need that reminder.  And then, as you get old (like me) it is nice to go back and look through some of those lost memories.  

Do this now and you will thank me later.  That's a promise.

Have a great summer in whatever you choose to do.  I'll see you in August!

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Writing Crime Stories

If you are a creative writing teacher, a teacher who uses creative writing, a teacher who writes fiction, or just a person who loves information about crime, here is the resource for you!

This site is a link dump that has information on things like:

  • FBI's information on serial killers
  • How long it takes for bodies to decompose
  • Homicide detective checklist
  • Glass fracture patterns
  • Analyzing ballistics
  • Weapons details
And just so, so much more.  Crime doesn't pay, but writing about it might.  If nothing else, some of the information you find here may just inspire you or your students to write the next great crime novel.

Monday, May 6, 2024

What Time Is It? 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 have serious problems, 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!

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Tech Tuesday - Starting Google Slides in Slideshow Mode (using Lucha Libre Literature as a bonus)

A short and simple one today.  I have a slideshow review for my AP class that I want them to go through when I am not there.  I want to make sure that they go through it in Slideshow mode rather than the typical edit mode you see when you pull up a Google Slides Presentation.  Turns out, that is easy to do.  You just need to modify the link.  The example presentation given here in the links is not the one I am using (that belongs to someone else and I do not know if I have permission to share it), but is a different one that I am going to use for class discussion (Lucha Libre Literature) later.  Since it was handy, I figured I would just share that one.

Creating a Slideshow mode link
Sometimes, especially when you have animation on your slides, you want to make sure that students open it in Slideshow mode rather than edit mode.  There is an easy way to do this.  Normally you link would look like this:

Put this link on your website or Canvas page and a student will pull it up in normal mode. Instead, change the EDIT to PRESENT.

Now when a student clicks it, it will already be in Slideshow mode.  This also works by using the word PREVIEW.  By the way, if you are wanting to share your document with someone, you can change EDIT to COPY and it will take them straight to a COPY FILE page. 

Got any other tricks up your sleeve?  Share them in the comments!

Extreme English Teacher Store

Friday, April 26, 2024

Worst. Prompt. Ever.

 Had a thought the other day and quickly made it into a thing.  It worked!  (Those spur of the moment ideas do not always do that!)  I challenged my AP Lit kids to write the worst FRQ3 prompt ever - in keeping with the College Board style, that is! The idea is that if they saw this on test day, they would be justified in just laying their head down and crying. I didn't have a set up or anything, just an idea.  They delivered!

So, I put all their entries onto a slides presentation and the next day I made them find texts that would actually fit the prompt.  At first they thought it would be impossible, but once they put their minds to it, they knocked that out of the park and it turned into a great class discussion assignment.

I also had them vote.  Since I had two periods, I have two winners.

This one:

Eeyore from A.A. Milnes The Winnie the Pooh states: “They’re funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you’re having them.”

Either from your own reading or from the list below, choose a work of fiction in which an author did not intentionally write a book. Then in a well-written essay, analyze how the author's unintended oopsies contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole.

and this one:

Transcendentalism was a movement involving authors and artists during the early to mid 19th century that heavily influenced literary works produced at the time.

Select a novel, play, or epic poem written during the transcendentalist movement. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how the elements of transcendentalism influence a central character and contribute to the meaning of the work as a whole.

If you want to see the others, feel free to check it out here.

I bet that whatever final exam/state test you have, you can probably find a way to tweak this idea into your own assignment.  Worst multiple choice questions or constructed responses.  Have fun!

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Masked Poet - Ozymandias

In 1817 and 1818, Rameses II was all the rage and topic of many a conversation.  Around Christmastime of 1817, Percy Shelley and his buddy Horace Smith were sitting around discussing ancient pharaohs, as one is wont to do, and decided to see who could write the best poem about Rameses II using the title "Ozymandias".  Both got published and experienced some acclaim, but Shelley's poem is the one remembered.  

That begs the question - is Shelley's poem remembered because it is greater or because he was the more popular poet?  The power of an author's name is nothing to dismiss.  Look at any Stephen King book published today and you will see his name in large letters and the title of the book small in comparison.  You also have the trend of writers loaning out their characters (Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler do this) and their name is still huge while the actual writer of the book gets the small print at the bottom of the cover.

In order to figure this out, we need a little blind taste test (so to speak) and what better way to do that than in the spirit of The Masked Singer?

I have a document made up and ready to print for your classroom needs.  You can get it here.  One one side, we have The Rook (Percy Shelley) and the other side we have The Bishop (Horace Smith).  I hand it out to students randomly so that they read different sides first since the order of reading may impact the judgement of the two poems.  

If you use it in your class, drop me an email or leave a comment.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

A Little FRQ3 Speed Training for Your AP Lit Students

Here's a lesson you can use with no prep assuming that you are an AP Lit teacher and you have covered the How to Read Literature Like a Professor concepts.

The FRQ3 prompt requires students to think quickly to have a text ready to go.  A little speed work can help them get mentally prepared.  This presentation will have students see a slide that has two HTRLLAP concepts on it and they will endeavor to write down eight titles that could work with either of the two.  Why eight?  Because I'm octopus obsessed and why not?  I've also ramped up the pressure and anxiety by only giving they one minute.

When the slide comes up, there will be a pause of about five seconds and then the countdown video will automatically begin the countdown.  Once time runs out, have student give their best suggestions and let the class vote on who had the best one.

Good luck with your test prep!

Like this?  Get more at the XET store

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Reverse Process of Elimination

The following was used in an AP Lit class, but can be used for any class that has a multiple choice test to prepare for.

We all know the best method of answering multiple choice tests is through process of elimination, but we also know that students often skip to trying to jump to the correct answer.    That's great if the correct answer is obvious to them, but not so good if they don't see it right away and often leads to poor decision making.

In AP Lit, the multiple choice questions are quite the bear to get through.  Most prep guides say to shoot for 60% correct.  The kind of kid who is attracted to an AP course does not shoot for 60% and has a hard time dealing with that concept.  We do A LOT of multiple choice practice, so I am always thinking about how to do it differently.

Today I tried reverse process of elimination.  In order to do that, I needed the following items:

  • A multiple choice practice passage (just one passage - not a whole slew of them because this will take too long) - the passage I choose was from the Princeton Review AP English Literature and Composition Prep Guide 2023.  I like this book because the multiple choice are, in my opinion, harder than the College Board ones.  Hopefully, they build up to these and when they see the actual test, they will feel a bit more confident.
  • An answer document formatted to fit the activity.  I used Fireworks to make it.  You can take mine and alter it to fit your needs or make a new one.  I'll put the image below.  It's formatted oddly because you need the hole punch to reach the answer bubbles.
  • Single hole punchers - a week ago, I offered a grammar pass for every hole punch that was donated to the cause.  I now have more than I'll probably ever need.
  • Red and black markers

Here's the process.  I mark my answer sheet by coloring in all the wrong answers with my red marker and all the correct answers with my black marker.  Students get an answer sheet, practice passage, and hole punch and get to work.  After reading the passage, they punch out one answer bubble for each of the questions.  The goal here to to punch out a WRONG answer.  This is an answer they are eliminating.

Then it is brought up to me where I will lay it over my answer key.  When I see red, I make a red mark on that bubble (well, the paper surrounding the now vacant bubble).  When I see black, I mark it and then mark out all remaining answer choices in that question.   The students get the answer sheet back and get to try again for all questions that have not been blacked out.  This process is repeated up to four times (since there are only 5 answer choices).

When it is finished, for these ten questions, I chose to give them a 25 base grade and then 2 points for every red mark.  Top grade for that would be a 105.  It looks like this:

That's my key to the left (rather messy after two periods of marking answers) and a finished answer sheet to the right.  I just count the red marks, times by two, add 25 and voila!  

This takes about an hour to do, with some students finishing earlier than others (they had homework they could get started on).  For slow working students, this does increase the amount of time they use considerably, but not enough to cause any problems for me today.

Afterwards, they said it was much more stressful, but they felt it really drove home the process of elimination.  They also felt that the last two attempts were easier since they had less answer choices to choose from (which is the point of process of elimination anyway).

Do you have an interesting way to shake things up with multiple choice?  Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Indoctrinate Your Students! (With Brave New World and 1984 Propaganda)

 I like to make my classroom as literary immersive as possible.  When we read Brave New World, the seating chart changes by height.  My tall row are my Alphas, and so on down to Epsilons (though I make sure my Epsilon row can handle the joke).  I always praise whatever answer my Alphas give (even I have to do crazy maneuvering to bring them to the actual correct answer and I cut the corners off the papers handed out the Epsilons (so they don't hurt themselves, of course).  I we read 1984, we paper the school with Big Brother Is Watching You posters and we have a secret police in the class to report on other students who aren't loving Big Brother as often as they want to (punishment, wipe down the desks or turn in other classmates).  

All the while this is going on, I have a slideshow of propaganda constantly flashing on the TV screen.  I'll share them with you. Some of the slides I created and some I just found online (more online for 1984 than Brave New World).  In order to play it automatically, I put the tab in its own window, hit SLIDESHOW and then in the bottom left corner, select AUTOPLAY then LOOP then 30 SECS then PLAY.  I cast it to the TV and go about my day.  

Here is the Brave New World one:

 Here is the 1984 one:

I haven't taught 1984 in a few years, so it could probably stand to be updated a bit.

What about you?  Do you have any cool immersive activities?  Leave a comment!

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

AP Lit (and probably a lot of AP Lang as well) - Multiple Choice

 In 2023, someone on the AP Lit Facebook page asked the question of more experienced teachers, what is their advice to students for answering the super hard multiple choice questions on the AP Exam.  The group responded.  I save them all and put them on a Google Doc that you can access here:

But, if you just want to pursue a bit, here they all are.  These do not come from me, but from the brains of other talented teachers across the country:

Facebook AP Teachers were asked: “What are your best strategies for teaching how to perform better on the multiple choice passages?”

  • Don’t think—find.

  • Read the passage first with emotional engagement and curiosity. Some students feel like they should just skim the passage to work quickly, but reading with interest makes answering the questions easier. Use marginalia to record your emotional reaction as you read-- for example, put a smiley face next to a funny line, or !!! next to a line that is surprising. This may help you answer a question about tone or detail!

  •  If an answer is partly wrong, it is wrong. Learn common types of wrong answers-- for example, some answers would be right for a different part of the passage, while others contain some words that are right but some that are wrong. Some have roughly the right content but the wrong tone.

  • Right answers are often a little disappointing and limited. They won't say EVERYTHING you want them to say. This is because it's HARD to write an answer that is completely right, so right answers can't necessarily contain the kind of debatable claims that you might make and defend in a rhetorical analysis essay!

  • Practice by analyzing your wrong answers and figuring out what made them wrong. Then, once you've practiced enough, TRUST YOUR GUT! Don't overthink questions

  • Fill in an answer to every question. There's no penalty for guessing, which actually means you increase your score by guessing.

  • POE strategy (Process of Elimination)

  • If an option is partially wrong, it's completely wrong.

  • Read ALL the response options before choosing one.

  • Unless you are 100% sure you made an error, do not change your answer once you've selected it.

  • Choose the “best” answer…one or two might look sort of correct, but which one is best?

  • Usually extreme answers are wrong.

  • Close reading means reading the passage AND the potential answers closely.

  • Try to imagine a group of college board employees sitting around a conference table making up wrong answers and trying to trick you into thinking they are correct answers … try to understand those devious minds! This is what gives their existence meaning! Lol…don’t let them outsmart you!

  • If it's hard for you, it's hard for someone else too.

  • If you don't know, guess, move on, and don't change the answer- first guesses are more likely to be correct.

  • Read the questions before the passage

  • When in doubt, go with your gut

  • If the questions refers to a part/line of the passage, go back to that part of the passage and reread it and a line or two before and after

  • I tell my students to read vs skim- most questions are beyond surface level besides the vocab context in meaning ones.

  • I recommend reading the question and seeing if an answer pops in your head and then finding which one matches, while being mindful of lead distractors.

  • Answer line specific questions before reading the poem/passage.

  • I tell them to think about getting as many points as they can. They don't need to worry about what they're getting wrong. Instead, they need to think about what they're getting right. So, on the first pass through, they just need to get to all the questions and not stop and think about any of them for too long. Then, on the second pass through they can go back to the ones that needed a little more thought. "Easy" questions are worth the same amount as "hard." It's all about the number of total points they can get. I also make sure they know that unless they are one of the very, VERY few who get a PERFECT score, they'll never know how many they missed or WHICH questions they missed, so it's different than taking it in a class.

  • Answer broad/theme questions last--after reading the passage/poem.

  • The idea I talk about the most when it comes to narrowing down the last to answers that are both correct, but one is MORE correct, is that if you have seen a theme or an idea in all of the other responses, that that one answer will also connect to that idea.

  • B is the new C

  • One time I asked my students who consistently scored well on MC if they had tips or strategies to share with others. One kid raised his hand and then responded, "Well, first of all, I choose the right answer." He was dead serious.

  • There’s usually a good answer and a better answer. Look carefully at every word in each potential answer.

  • Oftentimes kids don’t do well on MC tests because they don’t know all of the vocabulary in the questions. This is especially true when the answers are quotes from the passage.

  • Read the questions CAREFULLY

  • Other than practice, the MCQ section is difficult to prepare or improve upon.

  • Use the process of elimination and then take a guess!

  • Consider how you would phrase your answer to a question before looking at the possible answers— this helps you avoid trap answers

  • Find the rightest answer.  These questions often rely on nuances and so there may be several answers that are potentially correct.  Don’t look for the “correct” answer.  Look for the one that is more correct than the others.

  • Partially wrong answers are completely wrong answers.

  • A simple answer doesn’t make it a wrong answer.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Avoiding Summary on the FRQ3 Prompt for AP Lit

I recently had a student ask for a lesson on how to avoid summarizing on the FRQ3 prompt.  I've always just said, "Don't summarize, instead imagine you are talking to me about a Star Wars or Marvel movie - you don't have to tell me what is in it, I already know.  Let's talk about what it all means."  I didn't have anything else on it.

So I started looking and everywhere I looked, all I saw were web sites stating, "Do not summarize," but no other practices on how not to.

So now I was faced with having to create it myself, I just didn't have the passion to do it.  Luckily for me, Mandi Morgan posted on the AP Lit Facebook group a lesson she had designed for summarizing and was asking for feedback from teachers.  It's pretty awesome.  She wrote three example paragraphs.  each one has its own slide and animation to reveal what is summary and what is analysis.

I copied and tweaked it to fit with what I needed for my class and added one more example and a handout to go with it.  Mandi did all the hard work on this one. I asked her if it was OK to share it with you fine people, and she said yes.  


For the handout, it is just the examples on the presentation so that they can mark it themselves before revealing what is summary and what is analysis. That, and space to write their own paragraph.


Thank you, Mandi!  What about you?  Do you have a good lesson you'd be willing to share on this (or anything FRQ3 related)?  Tell me in the comments!

Friday, March 1, 2024

Friday Fun Day

 A friend of mine shared this on Facebook, credited to Jill Thomas Doyle:

Thanks to Kelly Arnold for being extreme enough to sharing it with me!

  • An Oxford comma walks into a bar, where it spends the evening watching the television, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.

  • A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.

  • A bar was walked into by the passive voice.

  • An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.

  • Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

  • A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

  • Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.

  • A question mark walks into a bar?

  • A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.

  • Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, "Get out -- we don't serve your type."

  • A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.

  • A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

  • Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.

  • A synonym strolls into a tavern.

  • At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar -- fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.

  • A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.

  • Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.

  • A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.

  • An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.

  • The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.

  • A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.

  • The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

  • A dyslexic walks into a bra.

  • A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.

  • A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.

  • A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.

  • A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.

Bonus points if you knew what a chiasmus was without having to look it up! And even more extra credit points if you know anything about this Jill Thomas Doyle. I've seen this all over the Internet always with a reference to her as the creator, but never anything about who she is.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Use This Old Superbowl Ad to Teach Situational Irony and Author's Purpose

 The year is 2015 and Go Daddy pulled their ad because it was too controversial:

Some of your students will find this as hilarious and others will not due to the puppy farm reference.

There are two ways to use this for your classroom.  The first is to give it as a reading comprehension (yes, I know no reading is involved, btu the same skills are used).  You can do this using the Daily EOC Blog post.  This blog gives a reading comprehension style question every day that you can use as a class starter or pull up several of them for a quiz or however else you choose to use it.  This gives you a chance to talk about the process of elimination if you have students that struggle with some fairly basic literary terms.  The question on this particular post refers to the humor in the ad.  Remind students that humor is subjective and one does not need to find it funny in order to understand what was intended to be be funny.

The other way to to use this ad is to talk about author's purpose.  Students that struggle reading often have problems understanding why a piece was written or why the author chose to present it in this manner or that manner.  The more we get them to think about the why the author did it, the better readers they will be and the better chance to get those type questions on your state test.

Here's the background to tell students - Superbowl ads, as they know, cost a lot of money.  This year (2024) it costs roughly $7 million for 30 seconds of air time (not to mention the cost for making the commercial to begin with).  In 2015 is was $4.25 million.  The author (in this case, the company sponsoring the ad) wants as many people to see this ad as possible for that kind of money.  Companies release their ads to the media ahead of the Superbowl so that news articles about the ads are ready to go as soon as the Superbowl airs.  This also gives more ad exposure.  The more extravagant the ad, the more people will want to discuss it long after the Superbowl.  What Go Daddy does here is absolutely on purpose.  They released their ad using a puppy mill for humorous effect knowing that once the media sees it, one group in particular is going to denounce it - PETA.  Once PETA does this, Go Daddy pulls the ad and replaces it with another that they just happened to have ready to go.  Remember that the purpose here is get more people to see the ad, so ask students how they got this to happen.  After some discussion, if nobody figures it out, you can reveal the trick.  

Once the headlines are "Go Daddy Pulls Ad for Being too Controversial", the one thing everyone wanted to do? See the ad.  Online newspapers, magazines, and other media outlets made sure to give the public what they wanted and showed the banned ad.  The result?  More people watched the Superbowl ad that DIDN'T air than those that did.

So enjoy it. This will give you about ten minutes of discussion and will leave them something to remember about what irony actually is and make them start thinking about author's purpose.

And if you want to incorporate the Daily EOC question (all state reading comprehension questions are basically the same format), its absolutely free and you can find it here:   

Monday, February 12, 2024

Cultural Literacy - New Product on XET (free for a limited time)

 For a limited time: FREE RESOURCE

One of my college professors absolutely loved the book Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsh, Jr.  The book was a proponent for rote memorization, but whether or not you like that concept, the other part of it has been useful to me in my teaching career.

Hirsh asserts that there are certain things all Americans are aware of just by being immersed in American culture.  For example, ask any American what McDonald's is, and you can pretty much guarantee that they will be able to answer with at least some degree of competency.  Same goes for Michael Jordan.  While the person may not know any details about Jordan's career, they should know that he is an athlete of some kind.  Hirsh believes that these are the things that help to make up American culture.  

He goes on to list several things that he feels every American should know, from history to science to music to sports to literature.  Some of those things I am very much aware of and others... well, not so much.  

These worksheets are assignments that probe students' knowledge of well-known sayings in American culture, such as "Putting your nose to the grindstone" and "Nothing breeds success like success."  It is fun to do these together, as a game, or as a research assignment.  These are phrases that come up in literature, writing, and day to day life, so it is as useful for students to know as are common allusions.

Each worksheet has 30 sayings on it, a chance for students to explain two of them, and a bonus question.  Answer keys are provided.  All worksheets are on Google docs so can be edited by making a copy of it for your own.

I am introducing this to the Extreme English Teacher store for free for a limited time.  I only ask that you enjoy it and PLEASE LEAVE A REVIEW.  You would not believe how much reviews are helpful to TPT store owners.

You can get it here:

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Who's to Blame? - A Great Class Discussion Lesson

This is my second year doing this and I think I have honed it down to a good 45 minutes to hour-long discussion lesson. 

I got the idea/inspiration from a podcast titled Alarmist.  The format of the show is to pick an event in history, say the sinking of the Titanic, the assassination of JFK, the Donner Party, the Superbowl XXXVIII halftime controversy, and many others like it.  They discuss the event and then start listing (well, they say they are listing it on a board - I'm just an audio listener so I will take them at their word) all the people and traditions and beliefs and anything else that is a factor.  The patriarchy is a common one that makes its way on their list.  Once their board is full, they start eliminating or combining until they have three.  One gets a warning, one gets a slap on the wrist, and the other goes to Alarmist jail.

So I began thinking - this would be awesome to use in a classroom discussion.  So I tried it out last year with my AP kids on who is to blame for Myrtle's death in The Great Gatsby.  It worked ok, but not with the flair I wanted.  I feel that maybe squashed some of the discussion by wanting to list everything first and then talk about it.  This year I did things a little differently. For one, I didn't read Gatsby this year, so I chose The Lord of the Flies.  Our mission was to decide who was to blame for Piggy's death.

It started with this:

The students were given some time to discuss and think about all the contributing factors.  Once I felt they were ready for the challenge, we started taking suspects.  This time, I let each suspect be defended or argued before we moved to a new subject.  That was the key to success.  After a LONG discussion of students getting very heated (but in a good way), the board was packed.  At that point, we marked out some suspects (Isaac Newton was argued for discovering gravity, but we released him from being a person of interest), we combined some suspects into others (Piggy's Auntie and parents were combined and then moved under the umbrella of Piggy), until we finally narrowed it down to our three main contenders: Roger, Human Nature, and Piggy.  

I did it again with the next class and they had the warning going to Roger, the slap on the wrist going to Piggy, and Jack going to AP jail.

This format could be used with almost any book.  Who's to blame for Macbeth's violent run?  Heathcliff's atrocities?  the hanging of Justine Moritz? the suicide of John the Savage?  You get the point!  And the amount of prep work for you is low - assuming you did your job earlier to get your kids ready for deep thinking.  Since there is a huge argument component, this works for AP Lang just as well.

It was so much fun!  They really reached deep and even the silly suspects (the color red, for instance) were vehemently fought for by their arresting officers.  How this would work in a lower level class, I am not sure.  I can only vouch for this in an AP class setting.  Try it and let me know how it worked in your class! 

Friday, February 2, 2024

TPT Sale - Feb. 6-7

 Heads up!  If you use TPT, there is a sale coming Feb. 6 and 7.  Get up to 25% sitewide.

Use it for anything you need, but I would of course love it if you checked out my store during this time:

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Tuesday, January 30, 2024

MC Speed Training

 Whether it is in my AP Lit class or my Standard Inclusion English II class, I have a standardized test at the end of the course to prepare them for.  For my English II, we are not concerned with speed, but for my AP students, there is a fairly short time frame they must adhere to.  So I thought I would give them a curve ball for yesterday's Multiple Choice Monday challenge.

I did not take this one for a grade.  Instead I put them into groups.  On the board I had 1-20 listed, each with A B C D E beside it.  I gave each group a different color wet erase marker and told them that they have two reading passages and 20 questions total.  Each group can send one member to the board to circle an answer choice.  Only one member from that group can come up at a time and no team member can answer more than one question at a time.  They are welcome to use their group for help in picking the right answer choice.  The catch?

  • Since they are writing in wet erase marker, once they have claimed that answer, they cannot go back to change it.
  • Only on team can claim a letter for any particular question.
This means that the group must decide on speed vs. precision, or rather, what combination of the two they will use.  If they focus too much on speed, they are likely to take too many wrong answers.  If they take too much time on precision, then they risk other teams grabbing the correct answer before their turn.  

The board soon looked like this:

After all teams were satisfied that they had answered all they could answer, we went over the questions and answers per usual, but this time, prizes were are stake.  In this case, they are playing a quarter-long game, so every correct answer gave their team extra points.

They had a lot of fun and the we added time pressure without grade stress, so I feel like it turned out to be a useful exercise.  Its not one I would do more than once, but it shook up the multiple choice practice and got them excited, so I count it as a win!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024


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.