Romeo and Juliet – the final unit

I decided to end my final year of teaching with a challenge for me as well as my ELLs.  I hoped Shakespeare’s  play with its eternal themes of relationships would act as a bridge for entering regular English 10.

It was fun.  I taught out of my comfort zone, knowing the students would have to spend most of the time acting.  The students rapped one of Juliet’s soliloquies, mimed cooking , ironing and folding laundry while acting.  They certainly got into the rhythm of the play.


Using ‘Guernica’ to Promote Visible Thinking and Discussion

As we were finishing Ishmael Beah’s powerful memoir A Long Way Gone; I remembered Picasso’s Guernica.


So I decided to guide our discussion of one of the final chapters (2nd draft reading (Kelly Gallagher) by using visible thinking prompts in order to analyze the painting:

What do you see, think and wonder?

Students worked in groups as they thoughtfully studied the painting, and responded to each other’s comments.


This was a different, rich pairing of texts.

I wish I’d had this Ted lesson to enrich and deepen the students’ understanding of the painting.



Visible Thinking in Metaphors

I read about metaphorical graphic organizers in Kelly Gallagher’s thought provoking Deeper Reading.

We have finally come to the end of The Call of the Wild and before the students respond to the novel with group discussions and Teaching Channels’ interactive stations, I handed them a recipe template for Buck.


The students looked up their favorite recipes including lasagne, souffle and muffins. It seems we have some serious bakers in our midst. They noted cooking terms such as whisk, knead, mix, add, beat etc.  They then referred to Buck’s attribute list: tenacious, survivor, confident, leader and defiant.  Finally,  the students listed Buck’s ingredients, wrote directions and put him in the oven.

I am in awe (no exaggeration) and so proud of my ELLs’ creativity:

3 cups of menacing environment

1 liter of love

a pinch of shyness

whisk like you’ve never whisked before

2 full cups of tenacity

1 cup of frugal

and I could go on.

My French speaking student ended his recipe with ‘la cerise sur le gateau’.

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This activity demonstrated how well they understood the choices and decisions Buck had to make in order to survive.

And they had fun!

Thanksgiving: a celebration of gratitude

Thanksgiving is full of rich learning experiences. This year my high school ELL class sat in the cozy, colorful elementary school section of the library.  Some even dared to relax on the carpet.

“Are you sitting comfortably”? asked Ms Ilana as she showed us the cover of The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper.  I , meanwhile, experienced a flashback to the welcoming, warm opening of the BBC’s ‘Listen With Mother’…


The students settled into a quiet, listening mode as our narrator told of the grandfather who explained to his grandson the universal meaning of kindness.  We did not discuss the message, but held on to our thoughts as we completed thanksgiving cutouts on what we are thankful for.

On our way out, we stapled our gratitude to the thankful  tree.


The idea for the next part of the lesson  came from McGill’s timely post ‘An Open Mind’

I asked each student where she or he is from and as  I teach in an international school the replies were diverse.  While viewing  ‘The DNA Journey’, the students jotted down ideas on an index card to help them articulate ideas for the discussion and written response.

My ELLs were shocked and intrigued; pointing out that we are so quick to define our differences rather than our similarities.

As one student responded:

“Just by spiting in a tube you can know where you are REALLY from.”


3 Activities for the begining of the Year: setting the tone, building confidence







Rather than hand out rubrics for expected student behaviors, the students themselves create a list of habits that make a good class.

Activity #1 Setting the tone of the class.

A few years ago I came across a handout with an important purpose question:  What makes a good class?  (Unfortunately,  I have no idea where I got this from).  The students complete this from two perspectives: theirs and the teacher’s. In order to help the students clarify their ideas they list  3-5 things a teacher and student must be, say or do to create a safe environment for students to succeed.  They worked in pairs and then in groups of four.  One student from each group reported out.  After listing the behaviors, we analyzed what habits a teacher and student share.

This is the anchor paper that is strategically placed in my class.


The final step of this activity  is to complete the analogy:

A good class is like …

Here are some of the answers.


I love the idea of a good class is like

a restaurant: you enter hungry and leave full or

a tree with many branches that grow of the teacher.


Activity #2 What the learners can expect to be doing in class.

Although I am obliged to read through and discuss the course guidelines with the students, they are not engaged.  However, I simplify a lesson plan created by Jim Burke  which gets them thinking, generating questions and discussing.

We look at the image of Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich.


The students note where he is, what he is doing, and the details/objects in the image.  We then discuss how the wanderer reflects the beginning of their 9th grade journey; their hopes and fears.

Activity #3 What is success?  What does it look like?  Does it matter?

Each student drew the symbols of success on small whiteboards.  Then they read  (a jigsaw activity) an article on the habits of champions,  identified the big ideas and created a slide show.

Finally, as an exit note, they created a frozen statue of success.

This was as far as I was willing to let them go.








Fahrenheit 451: Censorship #1

“It was a pleasure to burn”.

That’s how Ray Bradbury opens his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451.

Ilana, our librarian,  designed an interactive presentation to provide my ELLs with background knowledge to help them make sense of one of the central themes in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  

She began by showing the students a powerful video.

After a class discussion about the big ideas in the video,  Ilana continued with the main activity.  She had selected several books that had either been banned or challenged.  On the table were strips of paper with the reasons for the challenge.  Each student selected a few books and tried to match them with the reasons by reading the blurbs.



The students were intrigued by the various reasons given for banning or challenging books.  They were surprised that books they loved as kids such as Winnie the Poo, Where’s Waldo or Where the Wild Things Are, had been challenged.  Banning Orwell’s 1984 made more sense.  In the first follow up discussion, one student remarked that perhaps a government should control what people read in order to prevent them from getting strange ideas that might harm themselves and others.  “What about Mein Kampf?” he asked. Our conversation moved on to freedom and personal safety.

This discussion will be continued next week when Ilana reads a recently published children’s book that has been challenged.

I am looking forward to the ‘ahah’ moments.




Let The I-search Writing Begin

The Argumentative Writing unit is well worth the purchase.  To begin their writing journey, the students completed an enlarged version of the essay organizer.


I conferenced with each one as they filled in the required sections of their research paper: thesis question, background information, evidence and analysis.   This is one of the best ways to clear up confusions and think more deeply about their topic of inquiry.

Now Where Was I?

I know I didn’t really need permission to continue where I left off; but Elizabeth Gilbert, in her latest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,  gave me the ‘permission’ I felt I needed.  (Now I know I don’t need it). Towards the end of this gem of a book, Gilbert “urges” the reader to “forget about passion.”  It was then that an aha moment hit me.  How often do I talk about passion in class?  Too often it seems.  Gilbert argues that telling someone to follow their passion may leave the ones who are struggling to find it, “confused and blocked and insecure.”  Rather encourage curiosity.

So when a student is struggling to find a topic he/she cares enough about to write a persuasive piece, I will ask the following:

“Is there anything you’re interested in?


Even a tiny bit?

No matter how mundane or small?” (p.237)

In fact, that is why every Friday

is TOW (Kelly Gallagher’s Text of the Week).  I hope to nudge my students’ curiosity by reading interesting articles, viewing engaging TED talks as well as a powerful image from The New York Times weekly  ‘What’s Going on in This Image’.


2015-16 sources of inspiration

These books comprise my new sources of inspiration, for now,  for next year.

IMG_0377 (2) copy

My vacation is almost over and I haven’t even begun reading professional books.  While leafing through Nancie Atwell’s In The Middle, the words ‘At the end of our first class …’  jumped at me.  Since I want to teach well on my first class of the year, I will begin reading it.

By the way, I love the whimsical book marks you get with a Book Depository order.


Summer Slide not

But, I prevented my summer slide by reading lots of tweets.  I am amazed at how many teachers continue to post during their vacations.  I am grateful.

I began to fill the July pages  of my new Moleskin planner.


Notes on offline and online learning by David Brooks.  Online is like being part of ‘he greatest cocktail party ever.  Learning offline is ‘like being a member of a book club… solitary, intentional reading’ that takes TIME.

Alex Quigly argues that we should be assessing for progress rather than performance.

I was intrigued by an original metaphor for learning.   Robert Siegler, a cognitive psychologist,  describes learning as ‘a gradual ebbing and flowing of the frequencies of alternative ways of thinking with new approaches being added.”  How compassionate and safe .

I learnt about a downloaded an app called Word Swag.  How could I resist the name?

And, of course, close reading continues to be in the limelight.  I liked Doug Fisher’s definition of annotated reading as being ‘a careful, purposeful rereading of a text.’  Kelly Gallagher’s latest book suggests original, creative doable strategies for deeper, ‘second draft’ reading as he so aptly puts it.

I learnt that students ‘think-tank’ instead of ‘brainstorm’;  using They Say, I Say prompts such as ‘I used to think …, but now I think …’

 Frank Bruni points out that getting enough sleep  is ‘a gateway’ not an ‘impediment to dreams.’  So I will continue to exhort my students to get their 7 hours of sleep.

I am expanding my vocabulary by following HaggardHawks Words on Twitter and this is what I did this summer: I slurged (lazed around) drinking several pints of mahogany (cups of coffee) trying very hard not to look for molligrants  – imagined illnesses.


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