Sunday, April 16, 2017

Background Noise Perfect for ANY Classroom

Working on a project? Giving students time to brainstorm or write? Have one or two students that just can't concentrate with the noise from a neighboring class or that constant flickering light?

It sounds like you're in need of some productive background noise! Here are FOUR easy and scientific options for you to use in your classroom.

1. Birdsong

From what I understand, this is hardwired within us. Birds chirping let us know that everything is OK. Or in survival terms: there are no predators around. The world is safe and we can focus.

So by putting some bird beauties on in the background, you are giving students background (and maybe drowning out the annoying sound your lights make) while letting them subconsciously know that they can focus.

This also helps them connect to nature (albeit superficially) which may be more than many get!

I like the below because it isn't looped, it is real and it's long enough for one class (even if you are on block schedules)

BBC - The Surpising Use for Birdsong
Julian Treasure- The Benefits of Birdsong

2. Video Games

Stick with me. What is the purpose of music in video games?
  • To be in the background (i.e. not distract you)
  • To keep you playing (i.e.  not sleeping to your classical music)
More and more people are finding that video games in the background are doing it for them! I've read some suggestions that this is MORE effective if you have played the video game since then your brain connects the music to the feelings you had while playing. So you may want to ask students what games they play and see if you like any. As a game-boy fan of yore, I am putting Mario Brothers below for your perusal.

Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition  (Doesn't specifically mention video games, but ambient lyric-less songs)
The New Playlist for more Productive Work

3. Brown Noise

What? I thought it was white noise? Well, that's one option. There's also pink noise. I find most of my students prefer the slightly deeper sound of Brown noise, but it's really personal preference.

If it just sounds too much like static to you, this is very similar to teachers who like playing waterfalls or running water (I tend to avoid these my school has strict one-at-a-time bathroom rules that running water make difficult to enforce).

This is a calming noise that's great for getting your higher energy students to settle down and focus on the activity in front of them.

Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition  (Doesn't specifically mention video games, but ambient lyric-less songs)
The New Playlist for more Productive Work

4. Student DJ

Give the students' choice! This is a great (and free) prize if they're awesome. Have them make the (school appropriate) playlist.  If you can view YouTube have them send you a link. If not, play from their hone's directly.

The science here has nothing to do with the music they play, but the fact that they feel they have a say in what happens in the classroom.

Involved students are focused students.

There are definitely more options (especially the seasonal ones) but these tend to be my go-tos. What do you like to have playing in the background?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Poetry stations

A snippet from students at different stations
I really hate delving into a unit immediately after break. I have foreign exchange students who usually miss the first week back, students transfer from other classes, and they aren't always back in the educational groove right away.

This year, before getting back into poetry, I spent a day helping students start their year with no regrets and learning about their poetic pasts.

Then we jump into poetic stations. I've done stations before but this time I set them up slightly differently than I normally did. Stations were throughout my classroom more or less in a circular arrangement. Students started at one station with a partner. After about seven minutes, students were able to move on. Before moving on, one student at each station moved to clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. This way they are able to work with different students throughout the day. It also meant for new students, they got a chance to meet everyone in the class (be it only for 5-7 minutes).

My poetic station this year varied a bit from last year because I built off of what they revealed in their poetic journeys.

Students racing with Quizlet!
  1. Students expressed fear over needing to know literary terms. So, another Station was two of my yearbook computers set up with a Quizlet Figurative Language set. Students made note of words they didn't know, and raced their partner for the fastest time. Many students said that they were impressed by how many of these words they already knew. 
    • This was effective because students expressed a fear of needing to remember all of the literary terms. This showed them that they already knew many of them as we'd used them the previous semester. The students that were less sure have access to this Quizlet and can practice on their own in free time or at home.
    • This was hit or miss as far as enjoying it. Some students LOVED it because they races with their partners. If they weren't close with their partners then they enjoyed this station less. 
  2. Several students said that poetry is old and no one talks like that anymore. So, one of the stations was "Hip-Hop or Shakespeare" inspired by Akala's TED Talk. Students looked at lines either from a song or Shakespeare and talked to their partner about which one was which and why. After writing down their guesses, they got to see the answers.  Then they wrote one more response about which one surprised them more and why. This helped students see that we still use vocabulary like this today and poets from the past discuss topics we find just as passionate now. 
    • As I circulated the room I heard some great discussions here!
  3. Another common thread was students said they didn't understand what made a poem good or bad, so at another station they watched a clip from the Dead Poet's Society. They summarized it, said what the teacher felt about poetry and stated if they agreed or disagreed. 
    • This was a close second for their favorite station. Students thought the scene was very funny, and they agreed with the teacher.
  4. To get a little more non-fiction in, they answered questions from a non-fiction text about science and language arts being mutually exclusive. Not only did they practice SAT-like questions,  but they read more about the information emphasized in their textbook. 
There were a few other stations (based on the textbook and rhyme scheme) but these haven't changed in the past few years. The stations mentioned above were specifically added (or altered) based on students' poetic journeys. This was a great way to ease them into poetry and students could tell that I took time to cater to their needs, and that they appreciated.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Using Prism with Poetry

I teach "The Rubaiyat" to my World Literature class. I LOVE IT. I love introducing students to poetry from so far away and so long ago that still has messages for today.

However,  it is an older poem that takes a bit of work interpreting, and for many of my transfer and exchange students, it serves as their first official poetry lesson. So, before we jump into the world of Persian Poetry, we start with something a bit easier: Bon Jovi's, "It's My Life."

My class experiencing Bon Jovi.
Despite being so old there's a pager in the music video, students really like this song! Plus the message is very similar to The Rubaiyat, and it's filled with figurative language.

We start by watching the music video and talking about what the "plot" is. Then we review literary devices and on their own students find as many of them as they can. Ater five minutes I let them pair up to compare and share. Finally, ONE of them gets out a computer, and they head to Prism and create an account.

Then I share this link where I uploaded the lyrics to the song and picked three different categories. You could make these whatever you wanted. I've done this with connotation (positive, neutral, negative) and literal vs. figurative language.

After a quick demo, where I show students how to highlight, erase, and switch highlighters, they are on their own! I have them go through the poem. With a partner, they decide what color different sentences and phrases need to be highlighted.

In this case, I made it a little tricky. I didn't just mark things metaphors or similes I moved those into different categories (figurative language, clever writing, word choice). This meant with some things (like allusions) they had to figure out where it fit best. Once they finish they click "Save highlights."

In the end, you can show the visual representation of what everyone marked. It highlights the words according to the majority. So you can see in the example that gonna is marked as figurative language by most students. However, some marked it for word choice and some clever writing.

This provides a great visualization and allows us to discuss this as a class, which we did. Students pointed out that gonna was a great example of informal diction making this a very informal.

Overall this is a very easy to use

Now, some teachers consider a flaw of PRISM to be that you can't see what each student did individually. That's true! If you really want to see what each student did you can have them screen shot their page and submit that to you, but I care more about the quality of conversations they have with their partner. So more than needing to see what they highlighted, I walk around and make note of their discussions.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Create Class Culture and Flush Regrets Down the Toilet

To start this activity students entered class with a "to do" list on the board. Each student desk had two markers and two to three squares of toilet paper.

Step 1. The "To Do list" on the board had four steps
  • Sit where there is toilet paper (do NOT, crumple, play, or blow your nose with it)
  • 2016 review
  • Field Trip
  • Start 2017
Students took their seats and I explained that I know a lot of them had an amazing 2016, whereas others may have some regrets.

I showed them my piece of toilet paper which said "Procrastination." I explained that procrastination was a real regret of mine and I felt that if I had managed my time better, then I would have had a better 2016. As a result, this year I vowed to get started on things as soon as they were assigned.

Step 2. 

I gave students some time to write down their own regrets and then they had the option to share. Students were invited to share as much or as little as they wanted. Some students talked for quite a bit, and others shared just a word or two.

As they shared, I'd ask who felt similarly, and what solutions we could offer that would help all students.

This is an important part because we are building a class of empathy and helping. We relate to one another and our struggles and share our experiences to improve everyone's life.

  • They regret eating so much junk food
    • Eat more food from home.
    • Bring less money to school
  • They regret not doing their homework
    • Actually writing down assignments in their planners
  • A few of my exchange students regret choosing to study abroad. (sad!)
    • We talked about why they regretted it. They missed their family. Speaking in English all the time was hard. While some students had some advice, I think overall it was a good chance for them to empathize with another student.
  • Less social media
    • I shared a few add-ons that I like (like Dayboard which makes them achieve five things before they can access social media)
Step 3. Field Trip!
We headed to the unisex bathrooms right by my class. Everyone tossed their regrets in the toilet and we literally flushed them away.

Step 4. Returning to class, I asked them to remember this and try to stay focused on making 2017 the best time ever!

I love this activity because it's quick, memorable, students love it, it helped build classroom culture, and it was an easy way to ease students back into the classroom after two weeks off for Christmas break.

I encourage you to give this it try in your class. No need to wait until January 2018 to use this in class. Give it a shot after a rough week, a bad unit, or any other time you just want to help students turn over a new leaf.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Starting with students' poetic journeys

A big focus in my graduate classes this year, and the topic of several workshops I've attended has been on making sure lessons start with student as the center rather than the content as the center.

In my World Literature classes we are about to embark on studying "The Rubaiyat" which I really like. It's an area of literature that I don't feel we cover a lot, and the themes are very applicable today. Plus, it's chock-full of literary elements so students really can practice identifying those and more importantly why they feel those were used.

However keeping in mind my new mindset, I decided to start off by having students create their own poetic journey. 

To start I told them I wanted them to create their poetic journey and passed out paper and markers. Then we brainstormed what they may want to address in their journey. One class came up with:
  • What do you know about poetry?
  • What poems / poets do you like?
  • What poems /poets do you hate?
  • How have you been taught poetry?
  • Can poetry really be analyzed or isn't all art beautiful in its own way?
  • Does music count as poetry? What about movies?
We talked about how they did not need to answer all these questions and I again emphasized that I did not want essays. I wanted them to show me their journey with symbols, images or small words and phrases. They would be presenting these informally to the class.  

I kept it pretty loose for a lot of reasons.

First of all many of my students are exchange students so they actually spent the winter break back in their home countries so I wanted to give them a day to kind of just casually remember the expectations of my class before delving back into academic English.

Secondly, I really wanted students to have a chance to get creative with this. I did walk around and help or guide students that were really just wanting to write down answers.

Finally, students had a tendency to read when presenting so by removing the words from the paper it created a more natural "talking about" rather than "reading from" tone.

As they worked, I walked around to guide students. One student took this very literally and she drew a literal path. The start of the path included a snowflake (the first poem she remembered). Further down the path she had the word THOU in big block letters and then she crossed it out (when presenting she explained that she did not like Shakespeare and that type of poetry.

I had another student who was from China and said "You know, I think that my journey is more about discovering the difference between Chinese and American poetry, so is it okay if I sort of compare  them?"
Part of the Chinese s American poetry

Another student asked if he could write a poem that talks about his poetic journey, so we had a lot of different things going on.

In the end I feel like students walked away with a feeling of student voice that they had contributed to the lesson and learned a bit about other classmates. I walked away with a series of misconceptions about poetry that I would be sure to focus on. For example, many students said that poetry is filled with words they don't understand and that it has to rhyme. However, they also pointed out that poetry is subjective which I think was good but they recognize that different people can interpret things differently.

This gives me a great jumping off point. Next class we'll do stations on the background of the poem, and I'll have a chance to tweak my lessons with The Rubaiyat to address the concept and the misconceptions that were brought up today during class.

Would you be willing to try this in your class? Why or why not? Suggestions for how I could make it better? Share in the comments!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Jigsaw Kahoot for Collaboration

As an ESL teacher I've always been a HUGE fan of making students talk to each other. It could be about their day, what we've read, or working on questions together. In my opinion we cannot teach English to be just writing and formal presentations, they need to speak and collaborate with one another.

Now, I teach a lot more literature, though many of my students are still ESL students, and I still find that they should be talking to one another!

A long loved activity of teachers to encourage collaboration has been the jigsaw (no puzzle required). This blog will discuss the traditional jigsaw and throw in a more modern endings by adding Kahoot. As always there are other low tech or no tech ways to achieve this that will be discussed.

The next lesson I teach is Oedipus Rex, so that's where well start.

Prep Work
Readings. I am very fortunate to have small class sizes (under twenty students). You'll essentially be creating two different sets of groups. I do this with colors and shapes. For the sake of simplicity, pretend you have a class of nine students. I would group them into: Star, Circle, Triangle, Star, Circle, Triangle, Circle, Star, Triangle.

That means each student is in two different groups: color and shape. These groups don't need to be exactly the same, but it is helpful (so in a class of 15, you could have 3 shapes and 5 colors). Keep in mind that how ever many colors you have, that's how big the groups will be at the end. I don't like having them much bigger than 5, and some teachers may want it smaller than that.

For this class, I did it by column and note cards.

Each row has shared readings (and the same color note card) and the columns can easily get together when the groups need to be composed of different colors.

Each text is labeled with a different color. You can differentiate a bit here.  In this class seating arrangements are actually purposefully arranged so I can do activities like this and have similar students across. If I want students working with someone similar to them, then they face left or right. If I want a more mixed group they look forward or back.

Some things to consider are to give a slightly more difficult text to the students at higher reading levels, and a slightly easier text to students who struggle more with reading. Sometimes I have one group watch a video, one group listen to a song, and one group read a short news article.

To start, each student listens / reads / watches their assignment and answers the questions given. This is usually done on their own.

This can also be done in more of a literary circles fashion. All students are reading the same text, but different colors are focusing on different sections (vocabulary, plot, character development, etc.)

In this case I gave students ten minutes to read their article and take the best notes they could take on their note card.

Small Group Check
Once done, students move into a small group with everyone who has the same color as them. As they all had the same assignment they have the chance to share out here. Did they not understand something? Do they need more guidance? Did someone see something no one else did?

Mixed Groups Share
This is where it gets fun. Students move to another group that has the same shape, but DIFFERENT colors. They leave their worksheets behind, but get to bring their note cards with them. That means all of these students are joining the group with new information. They are the resident experts, and where the jigsaw activity gets its name. Each student has a piece of the puzzle and everyone needs to pitch in to make the puzzle complete.

In many cases they simply share with one another to complete a worksheet or let other students add to their notes. I've seen some teachers pass out a "Group test" and the group is graded based on the answers they come up with together. However, to add some fun to it this is a GREAT time to play Team Kahoot.

Many of you know I love Kahoot. I've blogged about making Kahoots as a teacher, and having your students make them. Team Kahoot, was a new function brought up this Spring. It's great for classrooms with limited tech as more than one student can sign on as part of the same team.

In this case it's great because the questions are made based on ALL of the colors, so one student can't dominate and take over for everyone else. Instead all of the students need to work together. You can see the Kahoot here in all its glory.

I did this today with my class of 15. It took us a solid 45 minutes which included reading, note-taking, making groups, Kahooting, and me explaining while we Kahooted. Students LOVED it and it was a great way to prepare them for Oedipus Rex next class.

Any questions or comments let me know below or tweet me at mELTingTeacher. I'd love to know if you plan on using something like this as is or adapting it to your class.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dollar Store Books

On Instagram I recently shared a picture of a book I'd bought.

The caption read, "Just grabbed this book at the #TheDollarTree! So perfect for my journalism class! This has so many great articles!! One after Lincoln's assassination, one after the San Francisco earthquake, one after Watergate... And so many more. There are serious articles, comedic articles and ones that strike the balance. Really great resource." (wow...I use a LOT of exclamation marks)

I was surprised to read so many comments from teachers who never buy books from the dollar store. The vast majority of the time I leave the dollar store, I have purchased at least one book (many times I leave having purchased only books). My personal and classroom libraries are filled with books I have snagged from dollar store shelves.

So, this post will look over ten books I bought this week at the dollar store. This is meant to show that you can get GREAT books at super affordable prices. This is by no means a complete list, but it will hopefully show you the variety and quality found. Shopping dollar stores is like shopping at a thrift store. You probably won't have the same titles in your store that I have in mine. So, if you fall in love with one of these books, I have inserted affiliate links to Amazon (that means that if you click through and purchase I will make a very small percentage which will probably end up going towards me buying more books)

Below I include the name of the book, a brief summary of the book, why I bought it and the stars on Amazon. If the book is particularly amazing, I'll write a full blog post on using it in the classroom later (and link below).

1. News Articles for all Occasions
The second I saw Deadline Artists--Scandals, Tragedies and Triumphs:: More of America's Greatest Newspaper Columns I grabbed it.

I just began teaching Journalism this year. I was a high school journalism nerd, and freelanced a bit while working abroad, but other than having students enter writing contests online I don't have many materials for teaching journalism.

This is GREAT. It is basically a collection of amazing articles. Some are pure news, some opinion, others are feature stories. These are great as mentor tasks (and I'd imagine history or social studies teachers would love it too as it covers big events).

Amazon reviewers seem to be fans too with an average of 4.8 / 5 stars.

2. As Seen on TV
OK, I am cheating here and putting in two books because I grabbed both for exactly the same reason.

I picked up these for my classroom library because students LOVE books that are related to movies or television shows. I also love having discussions about which was better (they almost always love the book more than the movie). This time I grabbed: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (confession, I already bought one of these at the dollar store, so now my class library has two) and a book from the Pretty Little Liars series: Wanted (Book 8) (another confession, I already bought a few of these for my class library, so it will compliment other books on the class bookcase quite nicely).

Abraham Lincoln is 4.2/5 stars and Wanted is 4.7/5 stars by Amazon reviewers.

3. Sports and Journalism
I felt really lucky when I found The Handoff: A Memoir of Two Guys, Sports, and Friendship in my dollar store. Remember I mentioned earlier how I am taking over the journalism department? This is a GREAT book for all my sports announcers in training!

The book follows JT the Brick's career as a sports broadcaster and his relationship with his mentor Andrew as he stays by his side as Andrew goes through cancer.

This book kills three birds with one stone. Students get an introduction to the world of radio journalism, football references for my sports lovers, and a reminder that empathy and compassion are not barred from those who enjoy sports.

Amazon reviewers give it 4.8/5 stars

4. Celebrity Endorsement
I'll be totally shallow and admit that I mainly got this book because: a. I LOVE the title: I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President and  b. Jon Stewart's review on the cover, "If War and Peace had a baby with The Breakfast Club and then left that baby to be raised by wolves, this book would be the result. I loved it."

Josh Lieb (A New York Times Bestseller) writes about Oliver Watson, who lives a double life. While he is a rich supergenius, he convinces everyone else that he is a normal (below average) student.  In an effort to win his dad's approval he runs for class president.

This story is filled with pictures and photo essays making this great for weaker readers. Perfect for my class library.

Amazon reviewers say 4.2/5 stars

5. Please be Nonfiction
So many times I read the back of a book and wonder if it is fiction, nonfiction or "based on a true story." When I read the back of this book, I was SOLD. In 1986 two fathers got together and created a basketball team that mixed black kids from an inner city school with white players from an elite private school.  

With a little research I confirmed that yes, The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White is based on a true story! The author was on the team in the 90s and wrote the story after meeting up with past teammates. The story will discuss the lives of his ten teammates and will look at the way that race, money, and opportunity mold lives.  

I look forward to reading this one and think it's a topic my students will love.

Amazon reviewers give it 4.7/5 stars.

6. Digital Citizenship Anyone?
I am an America's Next Top Model binger. I like watching entire seasons in a day while organizing my garage or going through a closet. Nonetheless, when I read that the author was an America's Next Top Model contestant, I'll admit it meant very little to me. What struck me as interesting is that Unfriending My Ex: Confessions of a Social Media Addict is about digital overload in today's society.

As a teacher at a 1:1 school, this is always on my mind. Are my students being overexposed to technology? Am I hurting, or helping? This book contains references to Thoreau, and Emerson (which may make it worth it for anyone who teaches transcendentalism) which are well done. It also contains sources varying from dictionary definitions to scientific journals. While it is told mainly in a narrative, it is a nonfiction that is easy to read and on a topic that I feel many students would be interested in. 

This has some of the lowest average Amazon reviews on this list at 3.4/4 stars.

7.Not Another Sports Book
What can I say? I know my class library lacks "boy books" so if I find something sporty that seems vaguely interesting I grab it. To be honest,  Out Of My League: A Rookie's Survival in the Bigs is a book that I picked purely because the back of the book mentioned that he was a pitcher for the San Diego Padres (woot!).

However, once I got home and started researching  the author a bit more this is REALLY interesting. He was a minor league player who started a newspaper column that gained interest. His column gained popularity and he is probably better known for his journalism career than his sports career. He has been on Sportsnet Toronto, ESPN, ESPN 2, and TBS's as a sports announcer or analyst. In addition he continued his writing career! The story is about his transition from the minors to to majors and his transition from dating to marrying.

So wait a minute? I picked up this book because it mentioned the Padres, and ended up getting a great example of a professional journalist who can show students it's OK to be sensitive. #winning

I haven't had a chance to read the whole book, but Amazon reviewers average 4.5/5 stars

8. Fact and Fiction
I am a HUGE fan of historical fiction. Something about the way fiction meets fact just makes me happy.

TransAtlantic is a mix of three different historical events: In 1919 two brothers fly to Ireland for their attempt at the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.  In 1845 Frederick Douglass finds support for the abolitionist cause. In 1998 Senator George Mitchell goes to Belfast for  peace talks in Northern Ireland.  As this factual events are happening we read about three women who connect these three separate events.

The syntax is odd, which is part of the reason I picked it up. I don't see this as a read for reluctant readers, but for examples of varying sentence length or students who are into history, this may be a great book.

On Amazon reviewers rated thisan average of 4/5 stars.

9.  Make a Wish

My students and I do a lot of crowdfunding. I use it as a way for them to research, assemble data, and create persuasive texts. My students get very good at researching data, and sometimes they lose focus of the heart.

Wish Granted: 25 Stories of Strength and Resilience from America's Favorite Athletes is a great coffee table book. If I ever get a coffee table in my classroom (it's on my to do list), I'll definitely sit this on it. It's filled with short reads easy for students to digest while waiting for someone to finish a mini-conference with me, or for their parents to pick them up.

As stated before, this focuses on athletes which is great for my students. They need to realize that they are so blessed and even if they aren't famous athletes they can help make a difference.

Reading the stories is humbling and encourages students (and teachers, and parents) to help others when possible.

This doesn't have many Amazon reviews, but right now it has a 5/5 stars average!

10. Coincidence? I think not!
Do you believe in coincidences? The premise of Coincidence is that a woman feels like too many events in her life are coincidences especially those surrounding Midsummer's Day. Too many in fact. It seems as though her life, unlike others, is not random but rules by some more powerful element. She goes to a professional "debunker" who believes that her life really is as random as everyone else's.

This book felt like the type of page turner that I could finish on a beach weekend, and I am hoping it will be a fast paced book that encourages students to just keep reading. I would like to actually read it before I put it on the bookshelves, but the reviews make it seem pretty appealing thus far.
Amazon reviewers give this book an average of 4.1 / 5 stars.

There you are. For the full price of just one of these paperbacks (Coincidence is selling for 13.48 I was able to purchase 11 great books. I even had enough to get a BBQ cook book for my summer pleasure.

Are you a dollar store shopper? What's the best book you've ever bought there? If not book, what's your favorite dollar buy?
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