Archive for Novel and Unit Projects

Breaking Down and Creating Your Own EngageNY Unit

I’m sure at this point most (if not all) of us have seen the EngageNY materials and marveled at them.  I remember my first experience with an EngageNY lesson.  It was like a choir of English teachers were surrounding me in song and Carol Jago was looking down on me with a reverent smile.  However, the more time I have spent studying and using materials from EngageNY, I have come to recognize a certain equation that, once identified, we can all incorporate into our lesson planning “toolbox” and begin applying to texts we are teaching.  In my opinion, the success of EngageNY lessons is predicated on the following criterion: Read more

Law in the Classroom: Overview

I hate math.  I really do.  I have a hard time multiplying any number past 7.  So much of my dislike of math is that I struggle to see its purpose in my life.  Why do I need to know the quadratic equation?  When will it ever impact my life?  However, I finally saw some meaning when my teachers would offer word problems, like “you are 90 miles away from the nearest town.  Your car gets 23 miles to the gallon.  How many gallons of gas will you have gone through when you get to the town?”  While I still had a hard time with basic arithmetic, I liked the applicability of these problems.  They made math seem more common place and useful in my world. Read more

QR Codes: Final Projects

Too often, I find myself trying to come up with intensively specific projects for students.  Massive amounts of two-sided, collated and stapled assignments consisting of multiple steps and checkpoints.  This intense need to plan for every single aspect is probably rooted in the very real understanding that students procrastinate.  They need guidelines. However, the level of intense project creation that then falls upon me is crushing.  Constantly tweaking, changing and revising the steps only helps to further sour me on the actual assignment itself.

What I want is a creative assignment to end a novel or a unit of study.  One that easily proves students can think critically and problem solve.  One that has them implement technology.  One that has them actually create something related to my class, that practices skill sets learned in my class and that proves them thoughtful and creative.  Did I mention that I would like it to be of their own design?


This is a lot to ask of teens.  They need guidance to think outside of the test prep bubble in which they’ve existed since elementary school.  So think of this project like an assignment in creativity, problem solving, big picture thinking, writing OR like a James Bond style mission, that is of course if you choose to accept it.

Novel/Unit Project with QR Focus Basic
1.  The goal of a project like this is to give students a list of tools and a general overview of rules.  Their job then becomes creating the project guidelines and the final product.  Think Fed-ex Day but with some determined parameters/tools.  Focused on novel or unit but on any aspect the students choose.
2.  Set expectations and tools for the assignment.  If you’re going for the element of surprise, split students into groups.  Hand each group a paper bag filled with the tools they’re allowed to use.  Example:

  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close QR lesson (This gives you that 007 feel.)
  • Images of tools they can use (This gives you that MacGyver feel.)
    • Cell Phones
    • QR Codes
    • Computers
    • Any other tool you want to throw in for good measure

3.  Ask that they construct an “official” assignment that could be used in a “real” course.  They should pick an idea, issue or part of the book to highlight.  Examples might include a QR Map of Holden Caulfield’s adventures in NYC or an assignment that asks students to use QR codes in

4.  Ask that they set achievable and challenging goals for each week.

5.  Provide class time for achieving these goals.

6.  Ask that they present their final project and product.

Monument Presentations: The Proposal

Statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial (237.00.00)The Common Core stresses student’s ability to work independently.  This is met through the final component of this project which is an actual application of all the skills practiced throughout the week.  The premise of the assignment is for students to work in groups and determine one person or event that they feel deserves commemoration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  We open by discussing the symbolic significance of having a monument located here as opposed to other places Read more

Determining Logical Soundness of an Argument

As an extension of yesterday’s post, today will be a continuation of the visual rhetoric of monuments.  I open by asking the students to pretend they are architects and have been tasked with creating a floor plan for a department store.  I give them no other instructions in the hopes that the drawings will be varied and unique.  Then, I ask some brave volunteers to present their designs and tell us why they constructed it in the manner that they did.  The rest of the class pretends to be Read more

Analyzing Persona With Text and Images

Before I introduce the project to students, I want them to think about the connection between writing and persona.  I want them to study a well written speech and evaluate the primary argument and how it is constructed.  Analyzing the construction will help them identify the main intent and purpose of the speaker, while also helping them recognize how the style and voice of the speech is reminiscent of the speaker himself.  While there are hundreds of amazing speeches (some of which were detailed in our posts a few weeks ago), I think the “Gettysburg Address” works best to introduce this project.  It is short enough to keep students’ attention but powerful enough in argument and style to help students see how a truly great speech is written:  with concision and purpose. Read more

Monument Project: Overview

People are freaking out about the Common Core initiative.  Really freaking out.  I feel like that it is the main topic in tweets, in-services, and lunchroom conversations. And the same comments keep popping up in each venue:

“How will we prepare our kids?” 

“There are so many standards!  How can we be expected to successfully cover all of them in a year?”

“Where is the fiction?  These ‘reading’ standards are primarily about non-fiction and informational texts!”

“I don’t have time to grade all the essays necessitated by the Common Core.”  Read more

Novel and Unit Projects: 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 assess their innermost feelings about end of the novel projects.

1.  Why do we need to have end of novel or unit assignments?  Why can’t we just let things go?

Emily:  For me, I like to see them comprehend how individual portions of a book correlate to the whole.  Just because a student comprehends chapter one of The Great Gatsby doesn’t mean that they actually understand the whole novel.

Aubrey: I, too, want them to see how all the threads of our study fit together.  I want them to be engaged in their own education, research, critical thought, peer evaluation, etc.  I also want to see if they bring something different to the text than I do.  That’s always the best part of this grueling gig.

Emily:  You have a great point about having the students being engaged in their education, but for that to happen students have to be reflective.  I think the best projects are the ones that allow students choice and control, not ones with 1,000 steps and directives from teachers.  However,  some students are so burnt out with a novel that the only reflection I get from them is “I hate Holden.”

2.  Did you create anything particularly meaningful in an end of novel/unit project?

Emily:  I know I’ve created a lot of videos reenacting scenes from a novel.  The funniest is when I read the book about Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army then and created a video in my friend’s wooded backyard.

Aubrey: Patty Hearst?!  Once again I have to say 9th grade English and Romeo and Juliet.  I feel as if those weeks probably were the most memorable of my high school career.   We were given a choice for our end of unit assignment. Construct a cookbook of recipes that Romeo would have enjoyed.  Rewrite the play as a children’s book.  Write a letter to the editor of “weekly newspaper” discussing your dismay at the violence in Verona.  Now honestly, even at this tender age I knew that there was something wrong in those choices.  A children’s book?  Recipes?  No.  I knew what I wanted to be was a journalist.  A serious journalist for the Verona Evening News.  I can’t remember what I said.  I can’t remember how long I spoke.  What can I remember?  The cream colored turtleneck I wore complimented by a vest that looked like a floral tapestry.

Emily:  A cookbook?  Hmm…I wonder what Romeo and Juliet’s last meal would be!

3.  In light of Aubrey’s shameless Charlie Sheen reference on Thursday, what are your thoughts about his current status?

Emily:  Okay, I’m so glad you referenced something from Hollywood.  I feel like our blog is remiss to not mention Arby’s or some celebrity action.  I love Ashton Kutcher and have a hard time hiding myself from all the Ashton hype.  Yeah, I’m a fair-weather fan.  But between his potential divorce from Demi Moore and his addition to Two and Half Men I can’t get enough news about him.  I can’t even focus of Charlie Sheen, who is now the poor man’s Ashton.

Aubrey: Well Ashton Kutcher is no Charlie Sheen but is Charlie Sheen really Charlie Sheen anymore?  I think I read that Two and Half Men still has way too many viewers for the quality of the show and that his TV show Anger Mangagement was still in the works.  Where did I get all of this great information?  Well from TMZ of course.  And Forbes.  Some of the most important sources in the known universe for information.

Novel & Unit Projects: Day Four

Ah the dreaded oral presentation.  Hmmm.  I feel as if I’ve used that line before.  Oh wait I did, on Monday.  Oral presentations have been end-of-unit assignments from the beginning of time, or at least since my time, which feels as long.  I understand the appeal, but I can remember the terror.  Students aren’t kind to one another, especially when it comes to being “bored.”  Presentations have lots of room for “boredom.”  They are however an expectation.  See the common core standards for further reminding.
So, how do you approach them in a way that isn’t terrifying or tedious for all parties?The answer lies within how you set the parameters.  Speeches should be short.  Expecting them to fill 3-5 minutes can be difficult for everyone involved.  So today’s end-of-novel/unit project is something that utilizes short student speeches.It takes time to construct a meaningful speech.  As a teacher I speak everyday.  But I have a captive audience.  They can’t leave.  That doesn’t make me a good speaker.

Novel & Unit Projects: Day Three

I have this tendency to want something incredibly creative from students as we end the study of a unit.  I want something bright, colorful, thoughtful, artistic.  I want to be blown away.  I forget the following: I’m no artist and most of them aren’t either.  Drawing always ends badly in my class.  Even though we long for something “creative” that spans multiple disciplines we still have a responsibility to have students consider motivation and purpose.

The New York Times ran an article about a high school student who curated a city-wide art show for teens.  The story was remarkable. It reminded me that often we do our students a disservice when we don’t make them reach.  They are capable.  This article reminded me of a synthesis question the AP Language and Composition exam used in 2007.  The premise of the prompt was that every single exhibition depends upon a series of “decisions” made by a curator. It is in this that we have the basis of an alternative project.  This project itself asks that students identify themes.  It’s particularly good for weightier works like The Grapes of Wrath, The Odyssey, All the King’s Men, MacBeth, The Poisonwood Bible, etc. The basic premise is that you want the novel or the characters or the unit to serve as the exhibition itself.  You will have students become “curators” for their own exhibition using the microblogging platform Tumblr.

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