Archive for Launching the Project

Resolutions: Close Reading Journals


So journals it is.  If argument journals aren’t your cup of tea, or you’d like more options employ a close reading journal. One of my favorite resources for this type of journaling is found in Nancy Dean’s Voice Lessons.  Her lessons are invaluable.  She has already selected non-fiction and prose “snippets” and created questions.  As a teacher, all you have to do is choose.  Dean’s questions often ask about the impact of specific syntax and diction.  Each quote is usually followed by two questions.  Choose the ones you like, copy and have students answer the questions as one journal reflection.  Even students who struggle can understand the power of word choice and the way that Nancy Dean constructs her questions reaches a range of students.  A teacher, especially in light of common core expectations couldn’t ask for a better resource.

Since Voice Lessons is such a fabulous resource, I could end the post right there.  However, if you’d like to kick the exercises up a bit examine Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings fame, and her Literary Jukebox.  Each day a quote from a book is posted along with a thematically chosen song.  Some of my favorites include:



Use Popova’s quotes in the same way you would with Voice Lessons except ask your students to identify the words upon which the sentences turn.   Then have them discuss the meaning, power and effect of those words in their journals.  Feel like they need more?  Have them listen to the song Popova has partnered with the quote and ask them to write about why the partnership works for the second part of their response.

Need a quick journal rubric? Here is a Close Reading Rubric that can be adapted for any type of classroom journals.

Welcome Back

Guess who’s back?

No, not just a new school year.  Your favorite resource for teaching English is back.

Like many of you I am dreading setting an alarm clock but am looking forward to reconnecting with my students and getting back into a routine.  I start school in August with a new year resolution.  This year I am striving to not spend hours at home on the computer revising lessons.  To do this, I have decided that I need to leave my battery pack at school every day.  I’m hoping that this will keep my work at home to only the most essential and allow me more time to treat myself to bad television.  As a blog, we hope to continue to inspire you to try new things and revise old favorites, to think about the needs of your students, while also thinking of your needs as a teacher, and, above all things, that you don’t work harder, but work smarter.

While we are celebrating our year anniversary of blog writing, we are also thinking about the future of the blog and are making some big changes.  One thing you will notice is that instead of writing five days a week we will instead be composing1-2 posts per week on a given topic.  What this means to you is that our posts might be a little longer, but they will be much more focused and concentrated on the strategy. We hope that this gives substance and specificity, making it easier for you to find exactly what you need to help you.

Tomorrow I will be posting a unique way to start the year with a close reading of a passage that leads into a “get to know” activity.

Happy back to school! May your first week be filled with freshly sharpened pencils and eyes eager to read.

AP Annual Conference

We have updated our website to reflect information from our AP Annual presentation.  The resources can be found here after scrolling to the bottom of the page.

In the right hand margin you can search for texts or skills that might also be of use to your AP class.  As always, please email us with any questions or comments:

Summer Reflection

This summer we will be taking a bit of a reprieve from posting but will highlight some of the more popular posts throughout the year.  We are also taking time to rejuvenate and draft new posts to begin in August.  Some topics we are working on are:

  • Close Reading Skills/Text Complexity
  • Literacy and Rhetorical Devices
  • Research Skills
  • Vocabulary Acquisition
  • Cross-Curricular Projects (American Studies)
  • Using Multiple Sources With Students

Feel free to provide any suggestions of things you are looking for or any issues you are questioning over the summer.

Read, relax, and sleep in.

We’ll see you in August!

Spring Break Posts: Part Deux

Ah, spring break part deux. Since Emily lives in one state and Aubrey is in another, their dueling spring breaks are back to back.  Enter week two of spring break extravaganza.  And while there’s no way that we could leave you completely high and dry for two weeks, we do plan on giving ourselves some time to read books, sleep in late and watch crummy television.  Just like last week, we’ll give you one tool or technology related application that peaks our interest.  So check back again on Wednesday/Thursday for our post for the week.  And don’t worry, we’ll be back in full force the week of April 8th.

If you just can’t wait because you’ve become so dependent on our quirky humor or, heaven forbid, our lesson ideas, let me direct you to History Pin – the website that allows anyone, but specifically your students, the ability to upload pictures and videos to tell their own story while examining those of others.  Don’t worry we’ll discuss it at great length later this week.  For now, just test it out.  But be warned, you can lose track of time easily.

Spring Break Posts

It’s Spring Break.  The highlight of every teacher’s year.

Over the next two weeks instead of posting week-long lessons we will be highlighting favorite websites and tools for the English classroom.  Check back on Wednesday for this week’s feature.

Enjoy your week of sleep and relaxation.



Photo from tomhe


Monument Presentations: Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to break down the Common Core and monuments.

1.)  What are your reactions to the standards of the Common Core? Good, bad, or ugly?
Aubrey: To be honest, they don’t bother me.  Now this is probably because I teach in a state that refuses to adopt them.  This also was probably evident when I asked you a year ago what the common core standards were.  We just don’t talk about them.  Ever.  From a philosophical stand point I think standards, especially when it comes to writing ability, are important.  

Emily:  I, too, like the standards.   Sometimes when I read Walt Whitman’s poetry I feel like he is able to put into words what I can’t.  He captures my thoughts in a way I can’t.  I feel the same way about the standards.  I think they are clear, cohesive, and strong.  I have tried writing “standards” for my students and revising them for districts for years.  None are as cogent as these. Read more

Week in Review: War Literature

           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 the role of war literature 

1.  What do you find the most challenging about teaching war texts? 

Emily:  I never really know how to remove my own opinions to the point that it doesn’t influence their own interpretation.  Every supplement we give students represents an undercurrent or an idea.  It influences their interpretation.  I find it so difficult to present every perspective or view of the particular war in a manner that truly allows them to form their own opinion not as a product of my own.  Even though I don’t think I have very definitive and domineering views of war it is such a challenge to not embed my views.

Aubrey: I agree.  Although it’s interesting.  Often I find that students are incredibly sensitive to these types of discussions and we all ultimately feel the same empathy regardless of viewpoint.  I think this happens rarely when I teach other texts.


2.  What types of supplemental texts have been helpful?

Emily:  I think images are the best.  Even though images, like text, can convey a clear argument, I think it is easier to find a variety of images that can be interpreted from a variety of lenses to alleviate some of the inherent biases present in our lessons.

Aubrey: Images do make a difference.  I have had some of the best classroom discussions by using Matthew Brady images from the library of congress.  The students are always struck by how young the soldiers look and how Brady chooses to “photograph.”

3.  What are some of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a war text?

Emily:  Depending on the year, I think it speaks to something they can all understand.  They most likely know someone who served, or could have served, or they can relate to their own fears of having to serve.  When Obama was first elected and was speaking frequently about mandatory service (whether it is through battle or volunteering for organizations like the Peace Corp), I think a lot of students were able to respond readily to The Things They Carried.  My fear about this is that it moves away from an analytical study about a text and moves too much into feelings and reactions/reader response, but I do think there is still a place for those.

Aubrey: It’s always interesting the first person “narratives” they bring to texts like Catch 22 or The Things They Carried. Students who rarely speak feel moved by these texts because they are so personal.  While they can be difficult to teachbecause of content, some of my best teaching experiences are a result of these texts.

Weekend Culture: Advertising

If everything’s a text how do we hold students accountable?  The Common Core, under Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, requires that students be able to assess and evaluate multiple sources of information in different formats.  You would think that students, for all their “media” savvy, would know how to do this already.  And yet, they struggle.  And we struggle too.  To assess media means we have to think nimbly.

This weekend we’ll focus on some engaging and innovative advertising campaigns that can be employed to teach argument, purpose, and image analysis.

Perhaps, it’s me but Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ad campaign is sleek and smart.  There are four ads total and each one contains an image and keyword.  In smaller text at the bottom is an argument about how the word (“Viral,” “Disruptive,” “Charged,” and “Worldly”) represents the magazine’s edgy, new personality.

Consider having students read the Ad Age evaluation of Bloomberg’s advertisements as background.  While the advertisements could be used independently, the hamburger patty ad labeled “Worldly” is a perfect partner for The Jungle and/or Fast Food Nation.  In two sentences located in the lower left hand corner phrases such as “far flung,” “global food supply” and “crucial” speak to many of the big picture arguments raised by Upton Sinclair and Eric Schlosser.

Use our post on image annotations from September 2011 to have student annotate and write for any/all of the advertisements. Consider discussing how more text or images would change the effect.  You may also choose to have students create a T-chart of pros/cons to evaluate effectiveness.

QR Codes: Tutorial

You’re ready to take the QR plunge you think but then you go to the App store on your phone and realize there are three thousand different QR code readers and you get stuck reading all of the reviews and then you get upset that there are so many and that people actually get to review anything online because it doesn’t help you decide.  I understand this!  Perhaps I even feel the same way.

QR Applications for Smart Phones

Because there are so many I’ve narrowed it down.  Both are free. Read more