Last year we attempted to have out 7th graders write an epilogue about a chosen character from the novel.
The results were far from stellar. We did not realize the difficulty of this task for students who struggled with creativity, making inferences, and writing in general.
This year we approached it from a different angle, assigning each student one character and then giving them three choices for their epilogue.
These activities ranged from letters to diary entries to speeches to conversations between old friends and new family members.
Below is a screen shot of what they received today.
“I don’t know which one to pick…they are all so good!!”
:::::::teacher love and heart swell:::::
I’m looking forward to the next step which their language arts teacher has laid out a nice plan for with very specific tasks and skills. It includes checkpoints along the way to ensure success.
I’ll share the PDF of the choices I created. It’s very much like a RAFT writing assignment.
Hopefully this year’s epilogues are better than last year’s!
Our 7th graders will be starting out the year with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, so I wanted to share the activity I used last winter when I read the book with my Resource Room.
I needed something to hook the kids, and from my experience with the book, the characters can be quite confusing for students. I decided that I would assign each student a role, and they would represent that character while we read the novel.
Going with the very popular idea of quizzes that we all take on Facebook (Which Disney princess are you? I’m Jasmine!)…I decided to do something similar with my students.
Because I don’t know how to make an actual quiz like that, I just used a Google form and with 8 students, I figured out the results to strategically meet the needs of my individual students.
First, the questions:
The next day, I handed out the slips of paper one at a time and read the descriptions to the class. They then inserted the description, as well as a photo I had printed, into a 4 x 6 acrylic picture frame.
Each day as class started, the students would get their frame and sit it in front of them on their desk. As we sat in a circle, I was able to reference/point to students as we were summarizing.
By having them associate the characters with their classmates, it was easier for them to keep the characters and plot straight. It was also fun to build suspense and keep students interested.
“Will Johnny/Blake live or die?”
“Will Cherry/Sydney fall in love with Dally/Josh?”
“Will the Socs/Nathan seek revenge for Bob’s death?”
Other skills I covered during this activity:
- Point of View – Students were asked to rewrite their description several times – in 1st and 3rd point of view.
- Perspective and Summarizing- After major events in the book, students had to get into character and write a journal entry or letter about the current situation.
- Predictions – Students were asked to make predictions about their characters.
I am not sure how this would work in a very large class, but I am anxious to hear your thoughts. If you could use this technique with a novel you are reading, please share in the comments!!
Today on the board my 7th graders saw “Flashback Friday” under “How We Will Achieve Our Goals.”
Of course, that sparked their curiosity.
How could it not? I was speaking their language.
While I read it, some giggled, some read along, and some rolled their eyes.
But all of them had to help me find the independent and dependent clauses in the book.
Oh, and they identified sentence types too.
Pretty sneaky, huh?
By the end of the book, they were seeing the pattern of the complex sentence. And luckily, Laura Joffe Numeroff included some simple and compound sentences just to keep it interesting. We had a nice discussion about how the author used a variety of sentence types to create a story that children would enjoy.
The learning didn’t stop there. I had more planned for them!
Taking some concepts from our novel, The Outsiders, I wrote the following on the Smart Board:
If you give a Greaser a……
If you give a Soc girl…..
I kept the directions simple: Finish the dependent clause and add an independent clause to make a complex sentence.
After they conferenced with me, they were able to glue them on the poster below.
I know the post-its are hard to read, so here are a few of my favorites: (Spoilers ahead!)
- If you give a Soc a car, he will mess with the Greasers.
- If you give a Soc girl a hard time, she will most likely throw a Coke in your face.
- If you give a Greaser a dollar bill, he will be your best friend.
- If you come home late to Darry’s, you should not mouth off.
- If you give a Greaser a blade, he will use it to defend himself.
- If you attack Ponyboy, Johnny will kill you.
They had such a great time with this lesson, and I felt like I was able to hit a lot of concepts in one period!
Independent and dependent clauses and sentence types are a Common Core standard for 7th grade.
We worked on editing our sentences for capitalization, punctuation, and spelling which is a definite need of my students.
We were able to review characters and events from the first four chapters of the novel. (Some of them got a little creative and didn’t have true facts from the story, but I wasn’t looking at that.)
At the end of class, students had to mark and label clauses in four different sentences I had taken (and possibly slightly adapted) from the novel.
- If I had worries like that, I’d consider myself lucky.
- They were getting over it though, as we walked to Two-Bit’s house to pick up the car.
- When I was ten I thought Mickey Mouse and Soda looked alike.
- When you’re thirteen in our neighborhood, you know the score.
My students asked if they could bring in other children’s books from home, so we could find complex sentences. Who am I to say no?
They decided that would be their homework this weekend.
Honestly, when I put the book in my book bag earlier in the week, I felt like it would be too immature and they would hate the activity. I almost trashed the idea at the last minute. I’m so glad I didn’t.
Maybe give it a try in your classroom and see how it goes. You never know!
If you give a 7th grader an idea, they just might run with it!
Have you used children’s books to teach a middle school concept?
How was it received by your middle schoolers?
I’d love to hear some ideas, so share in the comments!
I really did hit SEND. (Note: Some details have been left out of this email for the sake of my students.)
Dear Ms. Hinton,
Last fall, my 7th and 8th grade students had the experience of a lifetime when Rick D. Niece, author of Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher, visited our classroom and had a book discussion with us.
The day Mr. Niece visited was the very best day of my 19 years of teaching and probably the best day of my students’ lives as well, at least when it comes to school.
The positive influence Mr. Niece’s novel had on my class and myself is indescribable, although I have tried to capture it in my blog.
My 7th graders are just starting The Outsiders, and they’ve already asked the question I was expecting: “Can we meet S.E. Hinton too?!”
While Mr. Niece has local ties to this area, I felt it was only right of me to reach out to you, out of respect and love for my students. I have never been prouder of them than that day when they stood and recited one of Rick’s poems in unison. The moment brought tears to both our eyes and still makes my heart swell.
Not that I wouldn’t love to meet you in person…but I am requesting nothing more than an email or letter encouraging my class to continue to be the amazing “superheroes” they proved to be last fall.
They are, in their own way, “Outsiders” too. They have never had the special treatment they have been given this year, and I want to continue the magic just a little while longer.
The opportunity to read Side-Yard Superhero was a completely serendipitous moment that I almost passed up. But I said “Yes” to the book, and the rest is, well….just amazing.
I have taught The Outsiders for many years, and this year I already feel the anticipation and excitement building in my classroom. Should you be able to send us a letter, our address is: XXXXXXXXXXX
With much respect,
I was cleaning up my computer and came across an activity I used last year for The Outsiders.
I created a cloze activity for students to report on Johnny and Ponyboy’s exploits…from the murder of Bob to saving the children in the church fire.
I provided enough prompting and left the key details up to the students. I don’t know about your town, but in a small town like mine, the police log in the newspaper is big news. If there’s one part of the paper you can bet kids know about and/or read…it’s the police logs.
I think there are many short stories and novels that would lend themselves to this type of activity. Right now I’ve got my eye on The Tell-Tale Heart.
This activity is sparking some ideas for a whole newspaper on The Outsiders. Students could write:
- An editorial about if the Curtis boys should stay together
- Personal ads written by Greasers or Socs
- Comic strips depicting particular scenes (thinking of Cherry throwing Coke in Dally’s face)
- Obituaries for Johnny, Dally, and Bob
- Advertisements reflecting the cost of items back in 1967
- Informational article on rodeos
- Current events/trends of that time period (movie reviews, music, fashion)
- A food/cooking section with recipes for chocolate cake and baloney sandwiches
- Police log for the various crimes (slashing tires, Pony getting jumped, Dally and the robbery)
While my ideas are a little rough and in the early stages, I do think this could be a great culminating project. It could be assigned to groups, or each person in the class could have a responsibility and you could have one class paper.
You could also make it a weekly writing assignment focusing on different events/skills each week and at the end of the unit you would have all the parts to make a paper.
Skills that could be covered: comprehension, making inferences, summarizing, sequencing, research, expository writing, narrative writing, characterization.
This would also give students an opportunity to use Microsoft Publisher.
Any other thoughts or ideas on how to build this activity?
I would love to hear them!
Like many middle school students do each fall, our 8th graders are currently reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. One of the many activities that students do during this unit is memorize and recite Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” poem.
Just like learning the lyrics to a song, practice makes perfect.
Here are two ways I have found useful:
1) Write the poem on the white board in different colors for each couplet. Each day, in order to practice, students stand one row at a time and recite two lines in unison. The next row stands and recites the next two lines and so on and so forth.
Every day, a new row starts the poem so that students have an opportunity to recite every line. This is a good transition activity and should be done daily for at least a week (or two) prior to the due date.
2) I have also created a SMART Notebook file using the “Sentence Arrange” tool which you can read more about by clicking the link.
What poems do you require your students to recite?
What other techniques do you use to help students memorize poetry?
Share your ideas here and enjoy this video of “Stay Gold” by Stevie Wonder.
In 16 years of teaching, I have found a theme: I prefer to teach in thematic units.
I love the creativity and planning aspect of thematic units.
I love finding ways to tie as many things together as possible to get a “big picture.”
I love helping kids find connections (to both other subjects and to real life.)
In my first unofficial teaching position as a K-5 leader in an all day summer day care, I planned weekly themes as required by the center. Each day we had to have fine motor, gross motor, music, reading, science, and arts and crafts activities based on the theme. As a 22-year-old, with an age range of 5-11 to work with it was a huge task and often a stretch. Talk about being creative! I can’t remember all of the themes but I do remember the following: Colors, Oceans, Transportation, Animals, Sports, Fairy Tales, and Insects. This minimum wage job ($4.25 an hour?!?!) sort of set the tone for a career of teaching in themes.
In my first official teaching position (which is worthy of its own separate post someday), I was a home instructor for five siblings with severe to moderate disabilities. This job was unique in that I had my own “classroom” on their enclosed back porch/sunroom. My lesson plans for this job were also done in themes: one letter of the alphabet every single week. This was probably not the most logical way to plan because of the complete randomness of apples, angels, and acrobats or raisins, rhyming, and railroads, but for this group of children, it worked. Again, I had to plan for activities covering a wide range of skills: math, pre-reading, writing, music, gross motor and fine motor (I worked with both a physical therapist and an occupational therapist), and speech and language (a speech therapist came once a week too.) The randomness of the alphabet pushed me to stretch my imagination and helped me think outside the box.
In my second year of teaching, I finally had my own classroom in a traditional setting. I was the teacher for the K-3 Self-Contained Special Education Class. The only inclusion in the regular classroom was for music and gym. (I got to teach my own art class!) With this position, I had a very specific curriculum and themes I was required to cover. Each month, I would receive a giant Rubbermaid tote from the curriculum office and inside I would find a huge list of suggested activities and supplies to teach the content. I was able to supplement as I wanted. My planning at the day care came in handy. Some themes I had to teach that year: Oceans, Birds, Plants, Transportation, Colors, and Community Helpers. We also did a school wide theme on America in the month of February.
From there, I moved back home to a middle school DH/MH classroom. This was a new position in the building and I had no supplies, materials, curriculum…just 9 students, 3 aides, 9 desks, and a teacher’s desk. Fortunately, my students had a lot of inclusion time so I did not have as much to plan. I spent three years in this position and I remember these themes two themes as highlights of those years: Holiday Traditions Around the World and Leaders of America.
The next three years…back to a K-5 Resource Room setting and more themes (many repeats from other positions). But three unique themes I will never forget:
- Houses and Construction – We built gingerbread houses as a culminating activity.
- Pumpkins – We carved 22 pumpkins at the end of that unit. What a mess! More importantly, what was I thinking?? I have to say, my 5th graders were awesome helpers with the younger kids.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Festival – I could’t live much further from Albuquerque and it probably sounds like a crazy theme but my dad used to live there and had so much interesting information, I went with it. The culminating activity was making 22 paper mache hot air balloons for our own festival, which the whole school was invited to.
My next three years at the middle school level were inclusion and I was at the mercy of the general educations teachers. (Little to no opportunity to do my own thing/theme.)
At the high school level, I was working with students who failed the Ohio Graduation Test and needed additional tutoring. I spent the most time tutoring in Science and Social Studies and it was based on individual needs, which boiled down to “themes” like Plant and Animal Cells, Laws of Motion, and The Industrial Revolution.
And now I am back at the middle school and my perspective on theme has somewhat changed.
A few posts ago, I told you about the novels I use in my Resource Room: The Outsiders, Stargirl, The Giver, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
Four novels, four nine week, and one common theme? Was it possible that a theme could last an entire year?
At the end of the year I ask students: “How are these four books related? Do they have a common theme?”
Here are some of the responses I have gotten in the past three years:
- “You can’t treat people bad just because they are different.”
- “People are discriminated against if they are different.”
- “Everyone should be allowed to be who they want to be.”
- “Everyone just wants to belong.”
- “Friendships are the most important thing.”
- “Sometimes people have to run away from their problems.”
- “You should accept everyone.”
The definition of theme that we teach in 8th grade is:
It the above themes aren’t amazing life lessons, I don’t know what would be.
For years, I taught in themes, but now I’d like to think I teach life lessons.
What are some of your favorite thematic units?
What thematic unit would you love to do if there was room in your curriculum?
Have you ever had a theme for an entire school year?
- ICT Curriculum Themes… (classroomtales.com)
- Jolliff Middle School teacher has Titanic lesson plans (hamptonroads.com)
- Thematic Unit Links (pickettsmill.typepad.com)
- Thematic Units 4 Teachers (units4teachers.com)
For the past three years I have taught Language Arts 8 in a Resource Room setting. Working with students with decoding and reading comprehension skills below grade-level, I am forced to modify the materials and curriculum used by the other Language Arts teachers. Choosing reading material isn’t always easy – it must be high interest and low readability. I feel like I have a pretty good choice of novels and selections from the text book that cover everything I need to cover.
The four novels I read during the school year are
*With the exception of Stargirl, the general education teachers at my grade level use these exact same novels.
However, with the adoption of the Common Core, I am faced with a decision. All because of increased lexile bands.
According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the lexile levels will increase for each grade level band. 6th-8th graders who were previously reading in the 860L–1010L range but will now be expected to read in the 955L–1155L range.
While the jump is not earth shattering for high ability readers, it is significant for students with reading disabilities.
Look again at the novels I use with my students with disabilities:
According to the lexile levels, only one of these books falls into the new range for 8th graders. In fact, three of these books are apparently in the range for 2nd and 3rd graders! If you haven’t read The Outsiders or The Giver, there are definitely some scenes that are not appropriate for 7-8 year olds. (I do understand the the Common Core is not recommending students at that grade level read these particular books, but you must get what I am saying.)
So does that mean that we ditch the books that have been middle school “classics” for years? The content is appropriate and the literary elements are there. I’ve seen these books make non-readers read because of the story lines. I’ve seen non-readers take these books home or ask if they can keep a copy because they love them. I’ve had students say that their parents are now reading these books because they’ve raved about them so much. In my mind, these books are keepers!
My frustration is in the fact that some people think that these novels, because of their lexile levels, must be thrown out. How can I justify not using three of the four books I have built my curriculum around? Especially when these novels are perfect for the students I work with.
At this point, I plan to use these novels and supplement with increasingly more difficult text as my students are able to handle it. Supposedly, we will be getting some software that will allow us to determine a student’s reading range. This should be helpful in writing the IEP and planning instruction, but will I be allowed to use these novels with 8th graders? That answer will hopefully come when we receive additional training in the Common Core later this summer.
How do you feel about the new lexiles and the Common Core?
Would you discard a classic novel that is grade appropriate because of its lexile?
How will you select your novels as your district adopts the Common Core?
The last few days of school and the natives are restless. Today in my Resource Language Arts class we did a fun culminating activity.
To begin, we looked at a worksheet about evaluating a piece of writing. We discussed what it means to evaluate, completed the worksheet, and then the students became the evaluators.
Students lined up along the back of the room with small dry erase boards. Their job was to rate/evaluate each piece of literature that we read this year. I started at the beginning of the year and went sequentially. Students would write a number 1-10 (1 being the lowest) and then arrange themselves in a number line from lowest to highest.
As we went through our stories, I showed them the title pages or covers of each selection. This helped spark their memory. (Note to self: Next year, put these on the SMART Board rather than awkwardly flip through the text book.)
To keep the activity educational, I did the following things at random:
I asked individual students to provide a reason for their rating. What made you rate this selection so low? What made this a perfect 10 for you?
I quizzed them over the plot, characters, and some of the literary terms we used when we read that piece of literature. What was the setting of The Tell-Tale Heart? Which character was the protagonist in The Outsiders? What was Leo’s internal conflict in Stargirl?
I helped students find and explain the patterns of their ratings. Some things we noticed: The boys preferred science fiction and horror stories. Those who hate to read out loud rated the plays lower than the other types of literature. Overall, students rated our novels (The Outsiders, Stargirl, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) higher than our short stories out of our literature book.
Allowing the students to stand and move was a great way to direct their energy at this crazy time of year. I know some people use a number line already posted in their room, but the use of dry erase boards made everyone accountable and honestly, what student doesn’t love dry erase boards?
This activity was beneficial to me as well, as it served as a kind of formative assessment. What did they learn? What do they remember? What did they enjoy? What did they dislike? This will help me in my planning and instruction next year.
Do you do any end of the year surveys or review games?
How would you change this activity to fit your class?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how was your year?