Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kindness Creates Change

Today, we dove into our fourth Vocabulary mission, where you each shared with me where you think you'll be twenty years from now. You used our five fabulous vocabulary words in your writing, and I am looking forward to reading!

We also read the great short story "Thank You Ma'am" by author Langston Hughes, and we watched two people from each class bring Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones and Roger to life. We discussed that powerful and climactic moment when kindness changes Roger's vision and decision.

Our word for the day was inference, which means a guess based on evidence.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Writing PROCESS

It was great to see all of you again after the weekend! Today, you all handed in your first big writing project of the year--your original short stories. As we discussed in class, these first drafts will come back to you with many comments, notes, and revision ideas, but without grades. The key in a first draft of any writing project is to get your ideas down. In the second draft, you will revise and rework your stories. Your second drafts--based on revisions and ideas for clarity and change--will be the first time you'll see a grade on the stories.

We also did a Quick Write based around the prompt, If you could live anywhere in the world for a week, where would you live and why?

You each completed a seven-second story using an object from the classroom and your imaginations. And our word of the day was exult, which means to rejoice.

Tomorrow, we have our fourth Vocabulary quiz, which will involve creativity and imagination. And keep reading your independent reading books! And the exciting news about our first whole-class novel is out! We will be reading the wonderfully powerful novel by Kathryn Erskine entitled The Absolute Value of Mike. Here's the photo of our lovely books waiting to reach your hands early next week!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Unraveling Mystery; Honoring the Semi-Colon

While you all know my favorite word is perspicacious, you now know that my favorite punctuation is the semi-colon! It is beautiful; it is precious. And, in our writing, we often try to use a comma where the spot rightfully belongs the honorable semi-colon!

Today, we explored what a CSRO is. And we learned that CSRO does not stand for Cosmically Studious Runaway Otters. We also learned that CSRO does not stand for Conscientious and Slimy Robot Orangutans.


CSRO stands for COMMA SPLICE RUN-ON. It means, essentially, that we have tried to take two sentences which should stand alone and we've forced them to go together in a single sentence. But we can't do it. No way! We're trying to splice those complete sentences together with a comma and those sentences are yelling, "Please! No! Don't splice me together with that other sentence!"

Instead, we need to use the magical, honorable...SEMI-COLON. The semi-colon takes the place of a period here, so that both sentences can now be put together in a single sentence. Here's the picture of our board from today so that you can be reminded of our class notes and how we explored this grammatical necessity:

Also, we read Roald Dahl's masterful (and very creepy) short story, "Lamb to the Slaughter." We talked about inferences and how sometimes authors leave key details out so that we have to dig (and have fun digging) to figure out what has happened, and why.

Our word for the day was divulge, which means to reveal or make public.

The homework for Monday is to bring in your first draft (at least three pages) of your creative short story. (Here is the assignment again in case you need it.) 

Have a marvelous weekend!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Loving the Library! And Long Live the Semi-Colon!

We journeyed on over to the library today where you each explored the selection of great MG and YA fiction, and Mrs. Segaloff and I shared some book ideas and recommendations with you. You each found books that look fascinating to you, and I am excited about our independent reading this year! Remember that if you get a decent way into the book and don't love it, check in with me and I will help you find another book you love.

We didn't have a word of the day as we were not in our classroom, but will return tomorrow and dive into another short story (this one creepy and mysterious) to help generate some ideas and possibilities as you work on your own short stories.

The first draft--the "down draft"--of your original short stories is due on Monday. And tomorrow we will also have some time to chat a little more about my absolute favorite punctuation ever: the Semi-Colon!

The Semi-Colon is a brave, formidable, perspicacious and undaunted piece of punctuation who gets ignored far too often. not so tomorrow in Room 340! Long live the Semi-Colon whose presence will grace our classroom like royalty, like joy, like a slice of pure Pumpkin Cheesecake!

Have a fabulous evening; I am looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lights! Camera! Dialogue!

Today, you each brought in your first page of your creative short story. You shared a favorite line from your first page, and then we explored some notes on how to write dialogue in creative fiction. For each time a different character speaks, we must use a new paragraph.  We also explored how to use punctuation around quotation marks.

Here's the photo of our board from class today to help you remember what we discussed.

Our word of the day was formidable, which can mean both impressive and / or causing great dread or fear. 

For homework, the first draft of your short story will be due next Monday. Remember that this is just your first draft, so it does not need to be perfect and revised yet. This is just what novelist Anne Lamott calls the "down draft," where you have your first crack at the story. We will revise, rewrite, and rework in the second draft.

Also, remember that tomorrow, we will meet in the library to select independent reading books, and to spend some time conferencing on your first page (or more) of your story. Have a fabulous evening!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Giving Our Characters Quandaries...

Yesterday and today we dove into our first big writing mission of the year: your own, creative, original short stories. I am so thrilled about this project, and I can't wait to see what each of you comes up with.

Today we explored various possibilities, and I shared how ideas come to me when I try and craft stories. We also shared with each other, and then you each began to journey through some questions to get you thinking about the kind of characters, settings, and problems you want to give your characters. We accentuated the idea that our characters must face many struggles in order to build suspense and action, and to engage the reader. Think of what Harry Potter would have been like if his parents had not died, there were no bullies at school, and no grand evil forces with which to reckon!

Our word of the day was Quandary, which means: to be in a state of doubt or confusion. And remember, we want out characters to be in a state of confusion or doubt at times within our stories!

Here is the short story mission, in case you need an extra copy, or want to read through it online, or have forgotten it at school, or you rolled it up into a sword-like creation in order to fend off a garlic-shooting dragon who threaten to steal your shoelaces...

The homework for tonight is to write the first page of your short story. This can be typed or handwritten. And it does not have to be in final draft format! We are trying to get the engines inside our heads and hearts turning, so even if you think your idea is not (yet) a great one, just get that first page down, and I promise it's going to get stronger. Remember: all good writing is rewriting!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Creating Power

Today, we are exploring symbolism, and how writers use symbols to convey powerful messages and meanings. In Joan Bauer's short story, we can see sharks not as sea creatures, but in the face of Madge, in the store manager, and possibly even in the police officer. These characters try to attack Beth in different ways--they are symbolically like sharks!

You took your third vocabulary quiz today, in which you read a crazy story about your (normally) sane teachers, and you had to annotate the story using our five words from the week.

Our quote for the day is from a novel we'll read later on in the year, Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye: "Let's believe together in a world where no one is either inside or outside, yes?"

Our word of the day was symbolism, which means the practice of using an object or a visual to represent an idea or a character.

Have a fabulous weekend! The only homework is to begin thinking about what your short story might include. No need to write anything over the weekend, as we'll explore our first big (and creative!) writing project next week. Have fun, and get outside! (But watch out for the Jello-O aliens.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hear Me Roar!

Today, we discussed and explored Joan Bauer's short story, "The Truth about Sharks" in greater depth, and created visual and symbolic artwork that powerfully displays a line from the text that we thought was most powerful.

I enjoyed hearing each of your reactions to the story, and what you each found to be the most powerful line. When Beth, the protagonist, says on page 43, "I am teenager, hear me roar," we begin to get a sense of her empowerment as a character. She will no longer swallow her own voice in the face of wrongful accusation.

Our word of the day was--lo and behold!--EMPOWER, which means to give authority to, to imbue with power, or to give voice. We can empower others, but we can also empower ourselves--just as Beth does in Bauer's story.

Tomorrow, we have our third vocabulary quiz. The five words on this quiz are: CHARACTERIZATION, PROTAGONIST, ANTAGONIST, OMNISCIENT, and EMPOWER. Look back at our previous posts in case you need the definitions, or have forgotten your English binder at school.

For tomorrow's quiz, be ready to read a very, very, very (very) silly and goofy story that I have written for you. And your mission will be to annotate the story using our five new words. Warning: there are aliens; there is Jell-O; there is a scene involving a shield made of gold (and some hay particles) and a desperate, earth-shattering roar.

On that note, have an awesome evening.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All Powerful! All Knowing! All--Wait...Wait...Really?

Today we explored the kinds of POINT OF VIEW that authors use when they craft a story. As we read short fiction from all different genres, we see that each story is told through a different lens...

Some authors use 1st person point of view, whereby a character in the story is the narrator, and the "I" voice is how we see all other characters and events. A great example of 1st person POV is that lovely first line from S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders: "When I left the movie house that night, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman, and a ride home."

Some authors (though rarely) use 2nd person point of view, whereby the "you" voice is is how we see all the events and characters within the story. A great example of this is Jay McInerney's famous novel Bright Lights, Big City (which was made into a film starring Michael J. Fox). The entire novel is told in the "you" voice, so the narrator is always describing action, thoughts, and emotions by saying things like, "Your heartbreak is just another version of the same old story."

Other authors use 3rd person limited point of view, whereby we learn about events and emotions through the eyes of one or 2 characters within the story. The writing voice, here, uses "she / he / they." However, the narrator doe snot know what EVERY CHARACTER in the story thinks or feels--only one or two characters. An example would be Margie from our short story, "The Fun They Had." Asimov writes, "Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days."

Finally, we have 3rd person omniscient point of view, where the narrator of the story KNOWS EVERYONE'S EMOTIONS, THOUGHTS, AND VIEWS. The narrator here can take turns telling the story from different perspectives, in order to access every character's vision. It is still told in the "she / he / they" voice, but the narrator can use ANY "she / he / they" within the story, not just one or two!

After exploring POV and sharing some funny examples, we dove into a new short story by Joan Bauer entitled, "The Truth about Sharks." We read and annotated and tomorrow will do an activity with the story.

Our word of the day was omniscient, which means ALL KNOWING!

Our quote of the day was from Dr. Seuss: "I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living."

Our homework for tonight is to finish reading and annotating the short story, "The Truth about Sharks" by Joan Bauer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Following Tangents!

Today, we dove into the idea of a Quick Write, whereby you allow your brain to follow tangents in writing. Much of what happens in the English classroom is about staying organized, staying on topic, and sustaining and argument. And this is good.

But there are other kinds of writing! And sometimes, those kinds of writing muscles need a workout too. We stretch our minds when we allow them to follow tangents, and see where we end up.

The Pulitzer-Prize finalist Charles Baxter says that when he writes, he follows tangents to see if there is anything worthwhile at the end of them. Author Anne Lamott says that, sometimes, we find beautiful gems when we allow our minds to wander.

In Room 340 this year, we will sometimes do Quick Writes as a way of allowing our minds to wander, with our only goal being that we do not lift our pens off the page and even if we're not sure what we should write next, we can write, "I wonder what I should write next" until the idea arrives! 

Let your mind wander; let your heart wonder.

After our Quick Write, we worked in pairs reading a short story by Isaac Asimov entitled, "The Fun They Had." Then we came back together as a full group and talked about what school will be like in the future, and how we think about school right now.

Our word for the day was antagonist, which describes a character or a group that opposes the protagonist, or attempts to get the protagonist to fail.

Our quote of the day was from Albert Einstein: "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Have an awesome evening--and thanks for sharing your ideas of protagonists you admire yesterday!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Finding Heroes Among Us...

Helllooooooo Class! Today is a blast thus far. We are considering what it means to be a hero, and how we view heroism. What kinds of qualities contribute towards us as individuals or as a society admiring someone?

How do we connect with characters within stories and movies?

Why do we often admire protagonists (our word of the day!) from our favorite books, films, or our own lives and aspire to be like them?

What do we value in others?

Today, we are exploring all of these questions as you each create lists of heroes and chart values you think they possess. Then, you will each a bit about some of my heroes, via this PowerPoint, in order to get you thinking. (If you were absent, please click on the link in the line above to view our PowerPoint show!)

Now, after our writing, discussion, and hearing about my heroes, who is someone you admire? Think of one protagonist you admire from a book, film, or your own life and share who that character is, and why you admire them. 

What is it about this protagonist that make you admire her or him? 

Friday, September 12, 2014

What We Choose to See...

Today in class, we explored the word characterization (our word of the day, which is the way in which we describe characters--both physical and emotional / relational). We discussed Victor from Gary Soto's story, "Seventh Grade" and also a powerful scene from the film Rudy

In groups, you created ideas for how me might characterize Victor, the janitor, and Rudy, and in what ways each shows us his personality and convictions.

You also took your second vocabulary quiz today and shared some insights into your own personality and convictions.

Our quote for the day was from Mahatma Gandhi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Have an amazing weekend!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Uniequivocally UNDAUNTED!

I really enjoyed our class today! We read Gary Soto's fabulous short story, "Seventh Grade" and practiced annotating the story as we read--making circles, stars, questions, comments, connections ALL OVER the story so that it looked like a beautiful work of art by the end. 

Today's word of the day was undaunted, which means fearless, or having the ability to press on even the face of fear.

Tomorrow is our second vocabulary quiz, during which you will have to creatively work with our past five words. Come ready to think outside the box!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reading Below the Surface

We've had a great two days, class, exploring story sequencing. We've looked at the five parts of a story and how it progresses: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax (Turning Point!), Falling Action, Denouement (Resolution). We explored my story of the London Marathon and how the gentleman with a canoe passed my brother and I (a canoe!).

We then tried to piece back together in the right sequence Larry Fondation's powerful short story, "Deportation at Breakfast."  In your groups, you tried to order the cut-story-pieces into a sequence that matched our five story points. Many came very, very close!

Much of Fondation's story is below the surface, and we explored the climax in the restaurant and tried to figure out why it happened based on the evidence in the story.

Our word of the day for today, was pensive, which means dreamily thoughtful. Our word of the day for yesterday was analogy, which means a connection / comparison between two normally dissimilar things.

Our quote of the day today was, "It's not that I'm smarter than everybody else; I just stay with problems longer," from Albert Einstein. Our quote of the day from yesterday was, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

For tonight, your homework is to make a story chart of a true story from YOUR own life. You can draw the chart (upside down check!) and then add a few phrases for each of the five parts of the chart that relate to your own life.

And we've got an awesome short story in store for us tomorrow! Peace!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why Does an Author Write a Novel?

Today, we explored ideas around the essential question, Why does an author write a novel? We read a great interview with S.E. Hinton, in which she says that the success of The Outsiders, "inspired me so greatly that I was unable to write for four years...I love to write, but for four years, I could not" (32). This blows our minds as readers! Success and fame and money, as we discussed, are not internal reasons that propel authors to create novels, and sometimes the reception of those things can actually hinder the creative process.

As you each shared your own creative ideas for novels, we also explored other reasons for why authors write: to share a message, to process emotion, to look at something from another point of view, because it brings joy, to inspire, to entertain readers, and to face challenges.

Our word of the day was alliteration, which is the repetition of similar sounds in words close together.

Our quote for the day was, "Who knows? Maybe the root is the flower in that other world," from poet Mary Oliver.

The homework for tonight is to finish reading the interview with S.E. Hinton and annotate it as you read!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Writing Creatively

Today, you each took our first vocabulary quiz, which asked you to creatively write using the five words we have explored so far in our year. Remember that powerful writing is writing that evokes emotion--and make us think or feel something new or different. I am excited to read through your stories to find out how you took the prompt for our quiz today.

We also watched the opening scene from the film, The Outsiders, and discussed similarities and differences between the book and the movie.

Our word of the day was annotate, which means--simply--to mark up text with your notes and ideas!

Our quote for the day was, "I know it ain't been easy, but you found where you supposed to be. You're home," from the novel Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Our homework over the weekend if for you to each write one paragraph (about 5 sentences) that continues on from this prompt: If I wrote a novel, it would be about...

Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bringing Literature to Life!

What an awesome day! I really loved watching you bring a couple of scenes from The Outsiders to life. Many of you played the parts of Ponyboy, Johnny, Cherry, Sodapop and other characters from the book, and did a great job using bold voices and actions to portray the scenes.

You also read a short non-fiction piece about Ralph Macchio's role in the film, and how a group of high schoolers from Fresno, California actually petitioned director Francis Ford Coppola to make the movie--and he did!

Our word of the day was vacillate, which means to hesitate between two choices.

Our quote of the day was, "I learn by going where I have to go," from poet Theodore Roethke.

Tomorrow, we have a vocabulary quiz on our first five words. See the other blog posts to refresh your memory, and use your Vocab sections in your binders. It will be a creative quiz, so come ready to think creatively!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Can Anything Gold Stay?

We dove into The Outsiders today, which you all read over the summer. You each shared the artwork that you created to describe one of the character's emotions during the novel. I saw such powerful drawings, paintings, collages, sculptures, photographs, and other forms of art to explore characters like Johnnycake, Ponyboy, Darrel, Dallas, Cherry, and Sodapop.

You also discerned, from your five key lines about the novel, the one line you felt best described the theme of the book. You were able to share your lines, as well as agree and disagree with the lines of others, using evidence from the novel.

Our word for the day was voracious, which means having a huge appetite or being very eager.

Our quote of the day was, "Stay gold," which Johnny says to Ponboy in The Outsiders.

Your homework for tonight is to dive into the three questions about Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Here is a link to the assignment in case you need another copy: Poem Homework (Frost).

Think about the big questions of how we can hold onto hope. Is it possible to remain "gold" as Johnny advises? Even amidst pain, heartache, and tragedy, can love survive?

Thanks for a great day today.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding Evidence...

I had a blast with you all today. We talked about how important it is to say what you think in a clear way and to back it up with evidence and support. You each worked with a partner and read every other paragraph of our syllabus aloud. Then, you explored the syllabus to find what you thought was the most important part. Together, you located three lines--three pieces of evidence--that supported why you thought that was the most important part.

You each shared your decision and one piece of evidence with the class. Many groups chose very different parts of the syllabus. However, each group found great evidence to support why their area was the most important. This is a key component of English class. As we read a variety of awesome novels, poems, and short stories this year, I want you to be able to clearly state what you think is going on, and to support your ideas with evidence.

Then you each had a chance to pretend to be S.E. Hinton and respond to a question from your partner about her powerful novel The Outsiders. I heard great questions like, "Why did you choose to not show what happened to Johnny's parents after he died? Did they have a funeral for him? Did they ever change?" and also, "How much of the novel was based on your own life experiences." And I heard fabulous responses.

Our word of the day was accentuate, which means to emphasize.

Our quote of the day was, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved him out until I set him free," from the artist Michelangelo.

Here is a link to our syllabus in case you need to print out another copy, or want an electronic version: English 7 Syllabus (Bromfield).