Tag Archive for Hemingway

Tiny Texts: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories


Between blog posts, tweets, and RSS feeds, I find myself swimming in a sea of “tiny” text.  While all of them are informative, I’m not always certain that this hyper reading makes me a better reader. As with anything that we consume, sometimes it’s necessary to stop and reflect upon style and craft.

The amount of work that goes into tiny “texts” is evident when you examine Joseph Gordon Levitt’s hitRECord, an “open collaborative production company” where together a variety of artists collaborate and create.  You can join and collaborate or simply browse the “layered” art in mid construction.

Have students watch the actual background video on Gordon-Levitt’s project as a way to get them thinking.  Consider using the questions below as a starting place.

  1. What is the argument Gordon-Levitt makes about the difference between social media, exhibitions, and studios?
  2. What is his argument about business and collaboration?
  3. What is the value in this type of project?  How does it differ from something like a Turntable app?

Among these creations is The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, sixty-seven “tiny” illustrated texts that cleverly tell amusing and endearing stories.  It’s useful for several reasons.  It’s a great way to have students read for detail/language and sometimes even “pun” in a very small space.  They can’t get distracted or sidetracked because of the size.  hitRECord offers several examples that you might show your students.  Either discuss the value of this type of project or think bigger.  I’ve included an animated version below to further the idea of what is possible!

  • It’s also a perfect model for students’ own unit projects.  Partner the above exercise with authors or texts that use sparse style, i.e. Hemingway’s In Our Time or Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and have student mimic these authors’ styles with their own tiny, illustrated stories.
  • Use it as an assignment to finish a study of The Glass Castle, Hope in the Unseen, or Unbroken.  Have students write memoirs or personal essays in conjunction with our Twitter Memoir assignment.
  • Consider having students take slim but weighty texts like The Awakening, “The Yellow Wallpaper” or Heart of Darkness and choose the most significant portion of the text and create their own stand-alone tiny story from that “moment.”

Radiolab: “Words”

As English teachers we deal in words.  Every day I want more words, better words, more meaningful words. I want my students to feel the same way.  I want them to linger over Hemingway’s use of the word “nada” in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” and pour over all the description of the “courtesy bay” between Fitzgerald’s dashes.

It’s not that simple.

While you can teach a series of pieces that talk about the significance of words and writing (William Hazlitt’s “On Familiar Style,” “Why I Write” by Joan Didion, “Politics and the English Language,“ by George Orwell or Stephen King’s On Writing) students still struggle to synthesize the importance and effect of language.

Enter Radiolab and the program entitled “Words.”   It’s a different angle from which to teach language.  All three stories discuss, in essence, worlds either without language or with developing language.  Whereas my desire is to throw as much language at a student as possible, this program begins with the following premise:  Do words change the world?  Literally.  Does having language change our experience, understanding, and ability to think?

The program is composed of three segments.  Each one is detailed below.   You might choose only one or assign one for homework.  They are powerful, and if you decide to use them, you will want to be able to enjoy the discussion that comes after “collectively” listening together.

I’ve offered questions to have students write/discuss.  A Socratic Seminar using these podcasts as the basis would be perfect. The questions provided could be a starting point. Read more

Song Use: Day Two

Besides being a Belieber, I’m also a gleek and have also spent an inordinate amount of ITunes downloading Glee music.  One day while stuck in traffic on the expressway listening to a Glee album when I came upon the mash-up of Beyonce’s “Halo” and Katrina and the Waves “Walking on Sunshine.” A mash-up is taking at least two different songs and “mashing” them together in a variety of fashions.  It can be achieved by taking the music of one song and pairing it with the lyrics of another or it could be taking the lyrics of two songs and mixing them—sometimes switching out stanzas or just a few lines.  Usually, there is a common theme that runs throughout a mash up.  While trying to calm down my impending road rage by listening to Glee mash-ups I was struck at the intricacies of the mixture, which made me think about how similar the process is to what we ask students to do every day:  synthesize material into one cohesive, fluid, yet meaty response. 

I began thinking about how I could ask my students to take existing material and mash it together to create a new product.  This lesson could be taught with a variety of topics and a variety of pieces; however, I used it to teach principles of Puritan poetry.  Students had been assigned to read and answer comprehension questions about one specific puritan poem (there were five total).  Then, the next day in class, we began by listening to a mash-up from a DJ known as Girl Talk and brainstorming the techniques utilized in creating a mash-up.  His mash-ups are so unique because of the wide variety of music, genres, and beats he incorporates into each mash-up.  Below is a breakdown of all of the various songs used to create one of his mash-ups called “What It’s All About.”  The diagram speaks to the highly sophisticated mixing that is occurring. 

After writing the list of techniques on the board, students were then jigsawed into groups of five with each of the five poems included.  They were tasked with creating a new and improved Puritan poem, using the lines from the existing poems they had studied the night before.  I gave them the following perimeters:

To be true mash-up it must…

  • Include lines from at least 4 separate poems from the ones assigned
  • be at least 12 lines long
  • effectively “mash” the poems, not just lift stanzas
  • have a theme that links the lines together into one cohesive mash-up


1.)    Each person in your group will read their poem to the group and then provide a summary of it.

2.)    Then, begin thinking about common themes, ideas, strands, etc. that exist amongst the poems.

3.)    Cut out the lines of the poems that you want to use in your mash-up.

4.)    Arrange the lines to meet the above criteria.  Glue them onto your paper.

5.)    On the back, describe the theme in 3-5 sentences and rationalize why you selected and ordered the lines in the manner that you did. 


I stressed to them that each person needed a full understanding of each poem and, as a group, they needed to determine a focus for their poem prior to cutting the lines.  To make things easier, I had printed color copies of the poems, using a different color of ink per poem, which made it easier to grade.  They then wrote 3-5 sentences about the theme of their poem and how it was conveyed. 

While they worked on their poem we listened to various mash-ups in the background.  The most surprising thing I learned through this lesson is just how much knowledge and interest students have in mash-ups.  While I was familiar with a few groups, they had extensive knowledge of songs and groups and techniques, knowledge they were able to apply in combining their poems. 

This activity could be used with many pieces.  I originally thought about having the students write a mash-up after studying a variety of Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson’s poems or multiple documents from the Revolutionary period.  Yet, because of the cost for color printing, I found it easier to select five poems.  This could easily be done while studying any specific genre or author/poet, like Shakespeare’s sonnets.  I also think it could be done with primary source documents from time periods like the Revolutionary Era or various articles about the same topic (mimicking the AP Language synthesis question or AP US History DBQ). 

Below are some links for school appropriate mash-ups that could be used while the kids are working.  I didn’t show the videos because of questionable content, but the lyrics are fine; I just let it play in the background while they were working.

I love Girl Talk and 95% of his songs are school appropriate; however, you might want to preview them yourself so you can skip through/stop playing when it becomes inappropriate.  In most cases it is just one word and is easy to edit.

United States of Pop 2010

United States of Pop 2011

Reading Quizzes: Day Two

In the age of unlimited messaging and 40 hours per week of video gaming, kids aren’t used to deciphering words.  They are better consumers of images.  To support their visual addiction and because I love hearing them say “ugh….it’s so hard, Ms. Richardson,” I have started replacing the multiple-choice quiz with image quizzes.  What this means, is that I determine images that are representative or metaphorical to a text or time period and ask students to explain how the image connects to the studied content.  Sounds simple, but it is actually quite difficult for the kids because it asks them to prove their knowledge by thinking critically about what they read, not just repeating/regurgitating it.

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