Friday, 27 February 2015

Using Instagram to Teach Characterization

My latest inspiration came from the Kleinspiration blog, which gives a great idea on using Instagram as a tool to explore characterization.

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What I love most about this project is that it was inspired by the students' real life activities.  The teacher, Erin Klein, noticed that a lot of students received iPad minis for Christmas, and that many of them were using Instagram to document their lives.  How could she take this information and use it in the classroom?

She talked about Instagram and asked the kids what it would be like if the characters that they had read about in a novel had Instagram accounts.  What kind of pictures would they post?  This got the kids engaged in a characterization activity- much more interesting than doing a plain old character sketch.  Erin Klein of the Kleinspiration blog has kindly shared free printables for this project at

Food for thought... How do you integrate "real life" activities into your classroom?  I used to do a similar characterization activity using Facebook, but it seems that Facebook isn't as popular with kids anymore.  How important is it for teachers to keep up with what's "cool"?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I Read...Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell

This book is pure guilty pleasure.  I am a die-hard Marshmallow.  I have loved the television show Veronica Mars since the very first episode.  I never missed an episode, and I have seen every episode several times since it was cancelled in 2007.  I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to get a movie made, and I have seen that movie several times.  I was excited to read the first novel that was released after the movie, especially knowing that series creator Rob Thomas said that the events of the novel would become VM canon (important to know in case another movie is made).  As soon as the second novel was released, I knew what would be next on my "to-read" list.

If you have no interest in Veronica Mars, you likely aren't going to be interested in this book.  If you,'re not interested in easy-to-read, beach ready mysteries, you definitely won't be interested in this book.  Mr Kiss and Tell picks up where the last novel, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, left off.  bad-boy-turned-good-turned-bad-again, Eli Navarro, is in the midst of a trial following his run in with Celeste Kane- he has been wrongly accused of a crime, but the evidence is stacked against him.  Veronica is back in the PI business, working with her father Keith.  Her boyfriend, Logan, is back in town after being away at sea (he's in the Navy).   When a woman shows up on the side of the road, beaten, abused, within an inch of her life,  Veronica is hired to find out what really happened to her.  With a mysterious victim who has no memory of the abuse and no evidence, will Veronica be able to find the perp?  I'm sure you can guess what the answer to that question is, but the rollercoaster to get there is a fun ride.  

Food for thought... What are your guilty-pleasure books?  Your favourite beach-ready reads?  What are your thoughts on "real" literature vs. fun books?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Socratic Method

I came across this great infographic on the Socratic process:

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I like this image because it can be a great guide to help teachers to release more responsibility to their students.  It can be very hard to go from the role of expert or "sage on the stage" to the role of learning coach or "guide on the side."  The Socratic process is a great for encouraging deep inquiry, critical thinking, and student engagement.  Students are required to take on more responsibility for their learning.  That said, it can be hard for both teacher and student to jump into a student-led inquiry model if that isn't something that they have experience with.  Having an infographic that lists steps and question stems can help to guide the entire class through the Socratic process.

Food for thought... have you ever used the Socratic process, either as a teacher or a student?  What was your experience like?  What are some other methods that you use to encourage students to take ownership of their own learning?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

I Read... The Novel Cure

Are you feeling lethargic?  Do you have high blood pressure?  Could you be depressed?  Love sick?  Maybe you don't need to pop a pill.  Maybe you need The Novel Cure.

The Novel Cure is something that I simply had to have once I saw it.  Imagine a medical reference book full of every disease imaginable.  Now instead of medications, this book prescribes literature.  Do you suffer from a debilitating fear of death?  Read One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Toothache?  Read Anna Karenina.  Are you too vain?  Gone With the Wind.  Any reader can tell you that there is nothing better than curling up with a good book to cure what ails you, and this gives some great ideas to anyone who might be feeling stuck.  Sure, you can always go to Goodreads to check out a recommendation.  But sometimes you want a book that speaks specifically to how you are feeling, someone who can speak to you and the pain (or joy) in your heart.  

The act of reading The Novel Cure was, in itself, almost like a healing ritual.  Skimming the pages to see which ailments are mentioned brought me back to different places in time.  I may not be feeling a particular way now, but having the pain of loneliness, having a broken heart, and being plain old broke described in such poetic language instantly brings you back.  Reading on to see which books are recommended for a particular malady would lead me to one of three reactions: 1- YES!  I couldn't agree more.  I want to find all of the people who feel X right now and tell them YOU MUST READ Y! 2- NO!  Who wrote this?  Are they crazy?  That would never work.  Or 3- Now I MUST read X!  Let me head over to my Amazon cart to purchase said book immediately.

I think that The Novel Cure will be a welcome addition to any book lover's collection.  It gives you the chance to reflect on your favourite novels and get some great recommendations for your ever-expanding "to-read" list.  I would like to say that this is a great place for a non-reader to look for inspiration, but I think that may be optimistic.  The book seems to be written for those who are already "drinking the Kool-Aid" so to speak- those who already believe that all you need is a warm chair, a nice mug of tea, and a great book.

Food for thought... When is the last time that a book transformed your mood?  What was the book? What happened?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Teaching Common Themes

Theme is such a huge concept and is vitally important to teach to students.  I pinned this idea that I thought was brilliant in its simplicity.

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Teaching diploma exam level courses here in Alberta, where students are expected to write a critical/analytic response to a text based on a specific prompt that they have not seen before, we try to look at every possible theme that a student can pull and write about from a given text.  I can imagine keeping a list like the one that Erin has created for her Elementary students on her blog The Open Door Classroom.  I could add themes or topics in the left hand column, have students discuss and create an  explanation as to why this would be an important theme or topic to explore, and keep a tally of texts discussed in relation to this theme or topic in the final column.  This could be a great tool for diploma examination prep (or, in your case, final exam prep, essay prep, etc.).  

What I like most about this strategy is that its simplicity means that this can be easily adapted to any classroom.  While Erin originally created this chart for very young students, I immediately thought about how I would use it in a grade 12 classroom.  I imagine that this could also be used in other subject areas- Social Studies to keep track of major philosophies discussed, Mathematics to discuss formulas used for particular purposes, etc.

Food for thought... what would you use a chart like this for?  What adaptations would you make?

Friday, 6 February 2015

I Read... Poems That Make Grown Men Cry.

I tend to read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, so today's book is quite a departure for me.

I think that the study of poetry has instilled a fear of poetry in the average person.  I dare you to ask the next five people that you meet what they think about poetry.  I bet 4 of them make a nasty face.  I hear it all the time, from students and adults alike.  "I hate poetry."  "Why can't he just get to the point and say it?"  "Sometimes a white flower is just a white flower- we don't need to read so much into every little thing."  How do we create poetry lovers?  I'm sure that many a teacher has been inspired by Robin Williams' John Keating of Dead Poets' Society, but having kids stand on desks may not always do the trick.  I have always thought that we as teachers need to step back and allow students to read and explore different poems so that they can find something that speaks to them.  Seeing the full spectrum of what poetry has to offer might show people that poetry can be many different things.  

I think that Poems That Make Grown Men Cry could be a good tool to show this spectrum of possibilities.  The anthology asks 100 famous men from different walks of life to share a poem that arouses emotion in them.  The man writes a brief introduction to the poem explaining why they chose it.  With that emotional description in mind, the reader can read the poem through the perspective of someone who has already been touched by the piece.  I think that it is a brilliant idea, particularly since the book focuses on males.  Allowing boys to look up a poem that has been meaningful to someone that they admire shows them that literature has been written to change our lives, and that it is okay to be moved by something that you have read.  If you think that you hate poetry, I would suggest taking a look at Poems That Make Grown Men Cry to see if it changes your mind.

Food for thought... What are your thoughts on poetry?  Is there a poem that has made you cry?  Tell me about it!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

I Read... Smile and Sisters

I'm not a big graphic novel reader, but I often suggest them for students and teachers to use in the classroom.  I've been trying to make sure that I read more myself so that I can recommend titles and understand the medium better, but I am not usually drawn to the form.  I decided to pick up Smile by Raina Telgemeier- it's been sitting on my bookshelf for awhile and I had only heard good things.  I'm so glad that I finally picked it up because I ended up reading both Smile and the accompanying book Sisters within the hour.

First of all, the art is great- super fun and engaging.  It certainly drew me in.  Smile is about Raina, a middle-school girl who is going through the awkward stage that so many girls can relate to.  She has an accident that leaves her with a dental issue that makes her look different from her peers.  I could really relate to this girl's frustration about the crossover between her dental damage and her coming-of-age story- I have been going through through the process of getting a dental implant which leaves me toothless for long periods of time.  I also had an accident when I was a young girl where I had my front tooth fall out (which lead to my current problems...), and I could relate to some very specific concerns that Raina had- when she talked about her dental cast, I had flashbacks to my own dental cast.  

Through the process of having her teeth fixed, Raina learns about the true meaning of friendship, family, and the importance of being yourself.

After reading Smile so quickly, I decided to grab Sisters, which you can purchase in a boxed set with Smile.  As the title suggests, this story follows Raina and her sister Amara.  The family is taking a road trip to visit family, and the story flashes back to important times in their relationship as they grew up.  The girls don't get along, but as they reflect on their changing family situation they come to an appreciation of one another.  While this graphic novel was charming and had hilarious moments (look for "the incident" of the snake), I didn't think that it compared to the charm of Smile.  

Food for thought... Do you read graphic novels?  Have you ever used them in the classroom?  What are some graphic novel titles that you can suggest?  

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Ideas for Studying & Review

This is one of the first educational pins that I ever added to my Pinterest boards:

This is a Presidential version of the board game Guess Who.  I think that this is a brilliant way to review characters from a novel.  It definitely got me thinking about other ways that this Guess Who model could be used in the classroom.  Kids could make their own version to highlight their knowledge of characters.  Perhaps each kid is assigned a different character from a Shakespearean play, create a card for that character, and then they play the game to ensure that they have a good understanding of all of the characters.  Maybe this could integrate symbolism in short stories studied- choose a symbol that best reflects a particular story and play the game to show your overall knowledge of all short stories studied.

Food for thought... what are your most effective methods for reviewing complex texts?  What are some other ideas for using board games as a teaching tool?

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

I Read... The Serpent of Venice

If you have read anything by Christopher Moore, you know what to expect when you pick up The Serpent of Venice.

Christopher Moore is known for writing absurd fiction, usually centering on an "everyman" who is struggling through an extraordinary, or supernatural, circumstance (  His books are hilarious and witty, extremely well-researched, and inappropriate for a younger audience (lots of language and mature content).

When I saw The Serpent of Venice, the English teacher in me couldn't wait to see Moore riff on one of my favourite Shakespearean plays.  The story follows Antonio the merchant, Montressor Brabantio the senator, and Iago the naval officer as they lure Pocket, the Fool, to a party.  If you're up on your Shakespeare, you are seeing how The Merchant of Venice and Othello are starting to overlap.  Since they both take place in Venice, this is a brilliant premise.

Of course, Shakespeare's audience will expect that all is not as it seems.  The party is an empty promise as the three men intend to lure Pocket to his death (they are sick of having him as a dinner guest- keep that in mind the next time a friend invites you over for a meal!).  Luckily for Pocket, he is not as foolish as he seems.

In addition to Shakespeare, Moore expertly weaves Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado into this fun read.  I would recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind foul language and crass sexual innuendo.  I think that English teachers and lovers of literature in particular will get a kick out of seeing the three classics retold.

Food for thought... What is your favourite classical piece of literature?  Would you want to read a "retold" version, or are some things too sacred to mess with?  Any ideas for an updated version of a classic?