Archive for December 31, 2011

Weekend Culture: New Year’s Resolutions Day One

Ugh, it’s that time of year again.  A time when I optimistically set goals to make me a better person.  Yet, in roughly two months, I will have lost track of my resolutions and will be back to my old self, someone who is complacently resigning herself to financial debt and eating her feelings. 

However, the start of the new year encourages reflection when setting resolutions and lends itself to academic musing too.  This weekend’s post will provide two types of suggestions:

  1. Analyzing resolutions
  2. Constructing resolutions from various perspectives

Begin the talk of resolutions by asking students to generate a list of what they believe the most popular resolutions are.  This portion could be extended by asking students to determine what they believe are popular for a particular year.  Then, ask them to synthesize the resolutions by asking the following types of questions:

  1. What elements/attitudes link the resolutions?
  2. Why is it significant that these are common resolutions (set only when reflecting on the previous year) and not necessarily a daily affirmation or a lifestyle?
  3. What is revealed about American’s morals and values because of the common resolutions they set? 
  4. If resolutions are rarely met, what is revealed about American’s dedication to these particular areas? 

Finally, ask students to apply their knowledge by suggesting one resolution for the country based on their knowledge of current events and American morals and values.  Their resolution must condense a variety of perspectives and knowledge.  

If wanting to model the AP English Language exam more closely, you could also ask them to generate a list of things that must be considered when establishing a resolution that reflects the current state of America.

Week in Review: “Best of” Lists

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss the best and worst of everything.  Where else can you get this kind of insight?  

1.  What would you qualify as the most important “Best of” moment culturally or politically for 2011?

Emily: I think the legalization of gay marriage is probably the most profound culturally and politically.  Racial segregation and discrimination seem so foreign now, but the discrimination against homosexuals is fairly parallel.  So I would say gay marriage…and Will and Kate’s wedding.  She brought the fascinator back in style and she needs to be commended for that.

Aubrey: I was thinking along the same lines.  The end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was an enormous step for how we handle equality in our country.

2.  What is the value in having students examine lists about 2011?  Are lists of superlatives something that students can appreciate and examine with the big picture in mind?

Emily: I like the idea of students interpreting what lists reveal about the consumer or our country as a whole.  I think the superlatives are so accessible for students that they don’t always recognize they are learning, which is always a plus!

Aubrey: I like that you don’t have to “muscle” them into working with the lists.  They are interested from the moment you start handing them out.  I like too that these lists allow students to see their role in culture.  It’s interesting to see them recognize how they help to set the trends.

3.  What would you identify as your “best of” moment for 2011.  Please answer with out making an allusion to Arby’s or a sports figure.

Emily:  Too bad.  I wasn’t even thinking Arby’s until you put that in my head. I’ve had quite a few “best of” moments in 2011…it was much better than 2010. However, I’d say my best is probably moving into my current apartment. Everything seemed to align once I moved.  That and getting to spend roughly 2 hours a week with you, Aubrey.  Worst moment:  Jim Tressel’s firing.  I’m still upset about that and refuse to throw away my sweater vest.

Aubrey: Reading a book a week (sometimes more) this past summer.  It reminded me of my childhood goal: to read every book in Royal Oak, Michigan library.  A goal that was only intensified by the Pizza Hut Book It Program.  It also kept me sane as I started contemplated starting this very “lucrative” business with you, Emily. Read more

“Best of” Lists: TED Talks 2011

Yes, we know.  We posted about TED Talks before.   And yet, there’s no end to how many posts we could dedicate to their classroom usefulness.  From December 8th TED and The Huffington Post counted down the most important 18 TED Talks of 2011. It’s an interesting end of year “calendar” of sorts.  Its purpose: to create a “year-end journey of ideas” in order to better “shape the world in 2012.

If you had all the time in the world you could have students watch all 18 videos and talk about trends during 2011.  Instead, choose.  Below we’ve chosen our favorites and included some areas of focus for classroom examination.

Kathryn Schulz: On Regret

How many texts do we teach that deal with the idea of regret?  Let me name a few: The Scarlet Letter, All the King’s Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; those are just the novels I’ve taught so far this year.  Schulz’s speech is good because it is applicable to any text we teach that deals in regret, which is to say it is a supplement for anything we teach.  Think Shakespeare here or The Things They Carried.

Read more

“Best of” Lists: Photos

It’s no secret how much we love using images to teach students about arguments.  Over the last several months we posted about image analysis, advertisements, and our favorite image resources from the National Archives and Library of Congress. While images can’t replace text, they can engage even the most reluctant students.

We would be remiss in our discussion of annual Best of 2011 lists if we didn’t show you some of the best images of the past year.   Today’s resources will give you a starting point as you look towards implementing image resources in your class

The Big Picture

As a basic classroom resource for teaching students how to annotate images, this photo blog is invaluable.  However, as 2011 comes to a close, they have assembled three different image collections all under the title The Year in Pictures.  You will have to sift through the images in each collection to find useful resources but the time you invest is well worth it.

“Best of” Lists: Toys & Buzzwords

It seems like everywhere you turn during the month of December there is another list of superlatives.  Viral videos, political gaffes, worst tweets.  We live in a culture that sums up its annual experience in lists of fives and tens. Even AARP made its own end of year top ten lists: Albums for Grownups and Movies for Grownups.

Yesterday we tried to bait you by mentioning Time Magazine’s Top 10 Everything 2011.  If you haven’t seen it in all its glory take, a moment and peruse.  You’ll find 54 lists in total ranging from Albums to Animal Stories to Sports Moments.

It would be simply impossible to use all the lists because of content and time. The goal today is to offer up two complete lists that are appropriate for use within the English classroom. Read more

Annual “Best of” Lists: Overview

In my experience, no matter how long winter break, the month of January is difficult.  The first day back is crowd control and everything afterwards is silent teenage resignation.  And it’s not just them.  January is just a “taste” of the most difficult months that are yet to come.  It can be tough for anyone, teacher or student, to be enthused.

In order to beat the winter blahs, January blues, and lack of snow days, the posts this week will offer quick “mini” lessons to ring in 2012.  How?  By examining the “best” of 2011. What consumed us?  Who were we nationally and internationally?  What did we say, eat, tweet, produce, read, watch, experience and foul up?

Annual best of lists teach us more than what was hip (or not).  They are cultural snapshots, time capsules.  This week we give you our picks with the hopes that some of these lists will offer good classroom discussions and student based writing about those big picture arguments.  Trust me, you won’t have to do all the talking.

Need a bit of extra enticing?  Checkout Time Magazine’s Top 10 Everything 2011 in advance of tomorrow’s post.  There are 54 lists total.  Fair word of warning: you will lose track of time.

Weekend Culture: Presidential Holiday Cards Day Two

Yesterday we encouraged you to conduct visual analysis through President Obama’s current holiday card; however, there is much discussion that could be had over previous presidential holiday cards. 

Slate has posted a slideshow of various presidents’ holiday cards.  Print out the cards and consider engaging in the following activities with your students:

  • Compare and contrast the cards of two presidents that were either in close succession to one another, or are from different political parties, or, even more complex, from the same political party.  What distinguishes one from the other?
  • Consider the contextual significance surrounding the card.  What was happening during that presidency?  To what extent does the holiday card become a reflection of the way in which the president led during that time?
  • Ask the students to analyze how the cards have changed over the years.  Specifically, when did the Christmas tree become obsolete on the presidential holiday card?  Why?  What connotations are associated with this?  Ask students to identify strands and binaries that exist from the earliest president to the most recent.
  • The subject matter of the cards is interesting and varies.  What is included in the image of the card and what argument is being perpetuated by it? 
  • Give students a “word bank” of all the presidents and ask them to guess which president produced which card.  This could engage them in an interesting discussion about perception and expectations and the way we perceive ourselves.  Furthermore, they can also begin exploring how an image can ultimately reflect the personality of a president.

Weekend Culture: Presidential Holiday Cards Day One

‘Tis the season indeed.  I love getting holiday cards from family and friends, reading about their updates, soccer seasons, and hopes for the upcoming year.  Earlier this week, while opening a bevy of cards with a bevy of poses, and a bevy of messages, I was struck at how each card really conveys much about the family itself.

This then led me to daydream about what it would be like to receive a holiday card from the Obamas, a cute family portrait of the Prez smiling, having an endearing note from Michelle about Sasha’s academic accolades and Melea’s latest adventures.  I was reminded of their card from 2006, one that was the embodiment of the all-American family.



Then, I found 2011′s card and was left a little befuddled.

Or 2012′s holiday card.

ht white house holiday card dm 121206 wblog Story Behind 2012 White House Holiday Card

What a difference a few years make.

However, I think this is an excellent lesson in rhetoric.  There are several activities that can engage students in an analysis of President Obama’s holiday cards.

  • Have them complete a visual analysis of the current card and determine what it conveys about the first family.  Ask the students to analyze the content of the image and evaluate the effectiveness of the image based on the argument.
  • Similarly, there are a variety of articles about the Republican response to the 2011 Obama holiday card.  I find The Huffington Post’s article best because of its amount of quotations directly from Sarah Palin and the description of the card itself.
  • Encourage the students to consider who the intended audience of the card is and evaluate whether or not the argument is persuasive to that audience.
  • Similar to the AP Language synthesis prompt, ask them what must be considered when determining the content/image of the first family’s holiday card.
  • Ask them to compare and contrast the argument of this year’s card with the 2006 card.
  • Along those lines, ask students to compare and/or contrast the Obama family card with the Romney family card.  Ask students to determine what message is conveyed by each card and which is more effective and why.
  • Examine the content of the “message.”  This is always a controversial topic because of the President’s stature.  Since it is such a condensed message every word is important and conveys an argument.

For more information about the rhetoric of holiday cards, NPR’s Monkey See blog has an interesting examination of a variety of holiday messages this year.

Week in Review: Quotations as Support

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss student empathy and student-use of quotations.

1.)  This week we were posting all about how students can use quotations in their writing to support their ideas.  Now, it’s our turn.  What quotation would you like to deliver to your students to support your pleas in the classroom.
If we are to “lessen the stress”  of our beloved English teacher, we must consider not causing “great anxiety” by writing in a way that suggests we integrate quotes while sitting on the toilet.  The quoted portions above are taken from a great speech delivered during February of 2011 by an incredibly insightful English teacher.  Me.

Emily:    Really?  I’d like to be a lot more literal with my quotation and have them explicate the following from Goethe:  “There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.”  I’d like them to consider the definition and consequences of “aggressive stupidity.”


2.)  What is your pet peeve when assessing writing?

Aubrey: I truly dislike the rhetorical question.  So few students can do it correctly that I’ve adopted the “not under any circumstance” rule.  I also dislike the use of the following words: people, one, and clearly. Oh, and also when “one” thinks that quoting in isolation should “clearly” make “people” happy because there was a “quote.”     

Emily:  Nice.  My favorite is when the rhetorical question is the opening to an essay.  I want to shake them and say “Really?  Do you really think that is a good hook?  C’mon.  You have more creativity than that.”  I’d rather them just give me the answer to the question and save me the thinking and effort it takes to read their mind.

3.)  One thing stressed this week is that quotations shouldn’t just restate an idea.  Instead, it should further an idea.  In your professional opinion, what causes this?

Aubrey: I suppose what makes this hard for students is they are so willing to drop quotes into an essay because they assume that it’s filler and it makes their opinion or the craft of writing negligible.  I want good quote integration to be the start of their “elevator pitch.”  Not a bad movie, followed by a bad dinner.  

Emily:  I love when students ask how long a paper needs to be and then watch them picture their rough draft in their head trying to figure out how they can “stretch it out” by adding quotations that have nothing to do with their topic.  They love filler.


4.)  On a scale of 1-Amazing, how much did you like my reference to my pseudo-”boyfriend” Ben Roethlisberger this week?  

Aubrey: I prefer not to comment on this topic as I believe that you are delusional about many especially this one.  Please don’t hurt me like you always do.

Emily:  Don’t hate him because he is beautiful.  Just be thankful I didn’t talk about Arby’s this week! 

Analyzing Quotations

Okay, so I need to rectify a statement from Tuesday.  The only thing I dislike more than students incorporating quotations with “As Austen says…” is when students have really interesting quotations, quotations that are appropriate and well-selected, quotations that are well-crafted sentences of prose from an author, but they only write two low-level sentences about the quotations.  However, this is a misnomer.  When I conference with students and give them a quotation they can talk about it extensively.  Okay, maybe not extensively but at least more than 30 seconds.  What this signals is that students have knowledge about the quotation and content but that discussion gets lost in translation.  There is some roadblock that occurs with writing that prohibits them from fully exploring  the quotation to reflect their ability.  As teachers, it is our job to teach the students what questions they can ask themselves to get to the same depth and flow of ideas when analyzing a quotation.  I assume my best drill sergeant voice and make them repeat after me.

1.)    STEP ONE:  Provide the quotation.

2.)    STEP TWO:  Explain the quotation.

3.)    STEP THREE:  Analyze the quotation.

4.)    STEP FOUR:  Connect the quotation.

All right, maybe they need a bit more assistance than that, especially my visual students.  I ask the students to bring two quotations (both of which are embedded within a sentence) and provide them a graphic organizer copied on two pages.

We start by reviewing the activity from the day before that led them to a deep, insightful argument about the “big picture.”  They record this idea in the box in the center of the flow chart.  Then, in the top left corner they need to PROVIDE one of their embedded quotations in 1 sentence.

The remainder of this activity can be completed as a group activity where students pass their graphic organizer to a peer to complete or they can work on it step-by-step individually. 

Now that they have provided the quotation they need to EXPLAIN it.  I stress to the students that everyone interprets a quotation differently and they need to explain to their readers what they want them to know about the quotation.  To do this they might paraphrase the quotation.  I tell them this should be fairly low-level and explicit and should be completed in 1-2 sentences.

Then, in the bottom left-hand box, the students ANALYZE the quotation in 2-3 sentences.  Similar to yesterday’s activity, they might analyze the significance of the quotation, why it is important, what it reveals, etc.

Finally, the students need to return to the main idea of the body paragraph, which is written in the center box.  In 2-3 sentences, I ask them to CONNECT the quotation to their argument about life, society, human nature, etc.  To fully explore this connection they might describe how it connects, the implications of the connection, what it reveals about the connection, etc.

Then, for homework, they complete the activity on the backside of the document by themselves and we share and discuss the concerns and problems they faced the next day.

Just like our conferences, most students are able to complete this task.  This indicates that students are capable of composing 6-9 per example/quotation.  If they are using two quotations they have the potential of writing a paragraph of at least 12 sentences (not including their introductory and concluding sentences not directly associated with their quotations).

For students who need more guidance and structure when writing this activity provides them a how-to guide for analyzing quotations.