CLASSROOM NOTESOCTOBER 2005                                                     A QUARTERLY OF TEACHING IDEAS             ...
2        CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS                                                                                         OCTO...
OCTOBER 2005                                                                                   CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS       ...
4        CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS                                                                            OCTOBER 2005   re...
OCTOBER 2005                                                                                                CLASSROOM NOTE...
6        CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS                                               OCTOBER 2005                                  ...
OCTOBER 2005                                                                                 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS         ...
8      CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS                                                                                   OCTOBER 2005...
OCTOBER 2005                                                                                     CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS     ...
10     CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS                                                                              OCTOBER 2005it. A...
OCTOBER 2005                                                                                    CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS      ...
12     CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS                                                                          OCTOBER 2005adaptatio...
OCTOBER 2005                         CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS   13               SAMPLE HANDOUT PAGE
14     CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS                                                                                OCTOBER 2005   ...
October Calendar Entry on Teen Read Week                           
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5

Have Postcards Will Teach


Published on

Have Postcards, Will Teach
published in the October 2005 issue of NCTE’s Classroom Notes Plus

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Have Postcards Will Teach

  1. 1. CLASSROOM NOTESOCTOBER 2005 A QUARTERLY OF TEACHING IDEAS CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005 1 IN THIS ISSUE FOCUS ON WRITING Ideas from the Classroom Have Postcards, Will Teach Of all the teaching materials I’ve accumulated over the FOCUS ON WRITING years, the most versatile, engaging, and effective resource Have Postcards, Will Teach 1 I’ve developed is a collection of postcards. I’ve collected Using “Found Poetry” to Pinpoint hundreds of them: fine art prints from museums, black and Comprehension 3 white photographs from cafe counters, and colorful land- scapes from places my family and friends and I have vis- A Nursery Rhyme Lends Itself to ited. I save the covers from greeting cards with artwork or Point of View 7 photographs on them, and I buy inexpensive postcard books Videos as Educational Tools 8 at the used book store. I collect larger photographs and art prints, too. I buy cal- FOCUS ON LITERATURE endars in late January and early February when they are on Art Imitating Life: The 1950s and sale, cut them apart, and laminate the images. But there is Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE 9 something magical about the small size of a postcard that invites both “close reading” and use of the imagination. I Notes 14 can see the magic of postcards at work when I look around my classroom and see that every student is holding one, studying its image, and writing with inspired enthusiasm. Postcard images provide great stimuli for writing andIDEAS FROM THE CLASSROOM lend themselves to a wide spectrum of lessons, from gram- mar to literary analysis. In this issue of CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS, we treat you to a After a mini-lesson on verb tense, I ask students to writevariety of creative ways to enrich students’ writing and read- three different descriptions of the activities depicted on theiring. Students play off postcards to make connections with postcards: one in past tense, another in present tense, andliterature, model writing for different audiences after a nurs- a third in future tense.ery rhyme, use found poetry in new ways, and more. In Likewise, after a review of prepositional phrases, stu-addition, an in-depth feature on Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE dents can describe what is on their postcards using variouswill deepen study with an entire range of literacy activities, prepositions. Of course, students also practice using vividfrom Internet research and art to film reviews and other details and imagery in their writing when they describewritings. their visual images. The rise of Internet use by teachers and students has When we’re working on character analysis, my studentsbrought with it issues of electronic plagiarism and copy- use the postcards as a creative way to approach writingright awareness—issues we’ll all need to educate our stu- about a character. They can 1) choose a postcard thatdents (and ourselves) on. References to this new terrain are would appeal to their character and explain why, 2) imag-woven into several of the teaching strategies in this issue, ine inserting their character into the scene on the postcardand future CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS articles are likely to show and describe what would happen, 3) compare and con-a growing awareness of the most effective and appropri- trast their character with a person depicted in a portrait, orate ways for students and teachers to use the Internet. For 4) write a dialogue between the character in the portraittips on reading and writing on the Web, visit the free NCTE and the character from the text. For example, one of myTeaching Resource Collection at students wrote about how STARRY NIGHT would appeal tocollections/weblit. Victor Frankenstein because, being a passionate creator Enjoy the ideas in this issue, and remember to send your himself, Frankenstein would appreciate Van Gogh’s inten-own favorite teaching ideas to sity and admire the courage of his furious brush strokes. Like what you see? Subscribe to CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS by calling 1-877-369-6283. Copyright © 2005 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.
  2. 2. 2 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005Another student wrote an insightful comparison of Ophelia As a mini-lesson on the importance of titles, I post im-and one of Degas’s dancers, explaining that both women ages around the room with their titles covered and the im-were trained and directed to perform for an audience. ages numbered. When my students arrive, I invite them to After we review the basic modes of development—de- go on a “gallery walk” with a numbered sheet of paper.scription, narration, exposition, and persuasion—I have my They are to think of a title for each image and list it by thestudents practice weaving them together by writing about corresponding number. A class discussion comparing thea visual image using all four modes. students’ titles and the titles given by the artists reveals how When we’re working on figurative language, I chal- much effect a title has on our interpretation of a piece andlenge my students’ critical thinking by asking them to cre- how titles have power to enhance or influence meaning.ate metaphors and similes comparing personally relevant When I introduce the literary term genre to my students, Iconcepts, such as school, parents, or friendship, to the begin by giving each small group of students a stack of post-images on their postcards. cards and asking them to organize their cards into several As an exercise in developing voice, I ask my students to categories. If I have time, I ask the students to regroup theirchoose from among the portraits in my collection. For the cards once or twice more, finding new ways to organize thefirst part of the assignment, they write a description of the cards each time. Then we debrief the process in a whole classperson in the portrait using their own voice, then write a discussion of the various characteristics that could be used fordescription of themselves in the voice of the portrait sitter classifying the postcards—medium, subject, time period, andas if he or she is looking back at them. The second part of so on. This gives the students a concrete experience with thethe assignment requires each student to write a dialogue concept of genre before learning the terminology.between himself or herself and the person in the portrait. It is often easier for students to learn to identify elementsSimilarly, students can apply the concept of point of view of style by first analyzing a work of visual art and thenby writing about what they see in the postcard, first as the transferring this skill to literature. They can describe theviewer (third person), then as if they were the portrait sitter concrete features of a painting such as its medium, color,(first person). light, shape, and line, and then identify the corollary liter- ary elements of genre, tone, mood, syntax, and word choice, respectively. Similarly, when teaching students to identify themes in CLASSROOM NOTES literature, I have each student select a postcard that fits with one of the text’s themes. In explaining how and why the image complements the text, the student is better able to explore and describe his or her chosen theme. Project Coordinator CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS (ISSN Felice Kaufmann 1526-5641) is published four Art images can also be helpful when students are learn- Editorial Assistant times a year, in January, April, ing about the characteristics of a literary period. Since liter- Marcia Loeschen August, and October, by the ary and artistic movements evolve in tandem with one Design National Council of Teachers another, I give my students a visual window into the defin- Joellen Bryant of English. Annual membership ing features of a period by inviting them to study works of in NCTE is $40 for individuals Layout art from the same era. By identifying the qualities common Jody Boles and a member subscription to CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS is $60. to both the art and the literature, they gain greater insight Copyright © 2005 by the Nonmembers and institutions into the cultural-historical context of the text we are studying. National Council of Teachers may subscribe for $60. Com- of English. Volume 23, Num- My students enjoy these postcards activities so much munications regarding orders, ber 2 (October 2005) they often bring in new images to add to our collection. I’m subscriptions, single copies, It is the policy of NCTE in its change of address, and per- sure once you share the magic of picture postcards with journals and other publications your students, your collection of images, as well as your mission to reprint should be ad- to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning dressed to CLASSROOM NOTES collection of ideas for integrating art into your teaching, the content and the teaching of PLUS, 1111 W. Kenyon Road, will grow as well. Urbana, IL 61801-1096. English and the language arts. Final Note: If you want to use some of these strategies Publicity accorded to any par- POSTMASTER: Send address changes to CLASSROOM NOTES right away and you don’t have postcards, you can display ticular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Ex- PLUS, 1111 W. Kenyon Road, art images from library books, or find images on the Internet. ecutive Committee, the Board Urbana, IL 61801-1096. Peri- A Web search for free images will bring up a variety of of Directors, or the membership odical postage paid at copyright-free possibilities, including photos, historical im- at large, except in announce- Urbana, Illinois, and at addi- ages, and artwork. If you print out images from a copy- ments of policy, where such en- tional mailing offices. dorsement is clearly specified. righted source, be aware of copyright guidelines. Fair use guidelines usually suggest that educational use of text or
  3. 3. OCTOBER 2005 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS 3images be limited to single copies, involve one-time use “Search and Create” poems allow for more choice andwith a single class, and include a citation of the artist and demonstration of reader comprehension, and the “Recallsource. Among the many online sources of copyright ad- Poem” helps student and teacher assess what the studentvice for teachers are the following Web sites: knows on a topic. A Teacher’s Guide to Fair Use and Copyright General Instructions Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom, on the Internet, and Free verse is the format I advocate for hesitant writers, the World Wide Web and—almost more importantly—for hesitant teachers. I use these free verse guidelines for each of the exercises:Honor Moorman, North East Independent School District, G There should be one theme or topic and a purposeSan Antonio, Texas for communicating about that topic. G There should be no consistent rhymes. This saves time and ensures that rhymes don’t become more impor-Using “Found Poetry” to Pinpoint tant than content.Comprehension G Lines of poetry are generally not complete sentences, but are broken at important words such as adjectives Tired of general summaries and end-of-text questions to and verbs, compelling the reader to continue on toquickly demonstrate reading and how much (or how little) the next line. Also, one important word may count asstudents actually comprehend? Looking for something a little one line by itself.more creative, yet which still helps students individually dis- G Finally, everything else is free, allowing the individualcern details and consider relationships of system parts? With writer to show how he or she groups phrases andthe heightened concern about national literacy goals and content (which often clearly indicates which conceptsthe need for more conscious efforts in aiding student reading are not understood at all.)comprehension, I recently reviewed what I was teaching in G Other poetry techniques may be applied dependingcross-curriculum workshops and remembered an older strat- upon each student’s writing voice and comfort level.egy which still holds great promise today—found poetry. G I also assign students to include a relevant and unique I first heard of found poetry in an article in WRITER’S DI- title which piques the reader’s interest and sums upGEST magazine back in the early 1990s. Today, online the writer’s perspective.Wikipedia defines it as “. . . the rearrangment of words orphrases taken randomly from other sources (example: The Pre-Cut Puzzleclipped newspaper headlines, bits of advertising copy, This exercise helps students make sense of vital informationhandwritten cards pulled from a hat) in a manner that gives and is especially useful for students with low reading compre-the rearranged words a completely new meaning.” hension. It could be used with a variety of reading materials. In this case, the “finding” of “poetry” is in essence the One of my classes included a large core of studentsfinding of a topic and the details which help to inform, who had low reading comprehension and retention. I useddescribe, compare, contrast, evaluate about that topic, mak- the Pre-Cut Puzzle format as a pre-reading to THE PEARL bying it worthy of time and contemplation. (Note: the pur- John Steinbeck to help these students relate to the story andposes, or rhetorical modes, for communicating fit neatly focus on the content. I assigned a READER’S DIGEST articleinto Bloom’s Taxonomy of higher level thinking skills.) This (“Encounter with a Desert Killer,” by Lynette Baughman.provides for an excellent writing-to-learn and writing-to-show READER’S DIGEST, October 1995. pp.170–176) about a reallearning exercise. child stung by a scorpion in the U.S. Southwest to my fresh- Clearly this exercise uses the poetry format for a special men. Ahead of time, I had picked out relevant phrases andpurpose; where students might ordinarily write a poem to words from the article, cut the phrases apart, and put thecapture an experience, express a feeling, share an image, spaghetti strand pieces of information into clear this exercise they’ll be creating poems to help them gather, There was one puzzle bag per pair of students.organize, and understand facts and concepts. The results After reading the story, I asked the students to followwill reflect that focus, and might most accurately be called these steps:“information poems,” to distinguish them from poems writ-ten for less academic reasons. 1. Find a partner and pick up a “puzzle bag.” Each pair of Found poetry can be used in a number of different ways; students will have scissors, glue, and construction paper.I describe three below. For writing-to-learn activities, the 2. You have 20 to 30 minutes to create a free-verse poem.“Pre-cut Puzzle” poem format aids struggling readers by The purpose of this poem is to describe and inform theallowing them to focus only on the necessary information. The M
  4. 4. 4 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005 reader about scorpions. Review the phrases and words Search and Create in your baggie and choose which ones to use and how “Search and Create” is similar to the previous exercise, to arrange them in order to create a meaningful poem. but is used with students with slightly higher reading com-3. You are not required to use all the pieces. You may cut prehension, and gives students the responsibility for look- phrases apart to select words or phrases, as long as ing for suitable information on a topic and selecting words you stay true to the meaning. and phrases to use.4. You may add one or two words of your own, but the rest I didn’t pre-identify any word or phrases for students must come from your baggie. when I used this exercise. The student pairs were given 405. Your poem should be at least ten lines long, and should minutes to identify information from the story that they thought include a minimum of five characteristics about the scor- was relevant and useful to describe and inform about scor- pion. pions. Then they arranged the information to create found6. Try to create an interesting and decorative effect through poems. As with the previous exercise, students shared re- your arrangement. sults, and I used discussion to draw out comparisons and opinions about the various poems. In their pairs, the readers manipulated the bits of infor- Allowing for a little more time, students may also bemation, weighing the impact and value of words and given the option to structure their free-verse found poemphrases, and created their poems. Students with different into a concrete poem. I describe a concrete poem for stu-learning styles were all able to become involved. dents as a poem in which words and phrases are arranged When the gluing was done, we cleaned up and then to create a visual picture on the page—one which resemblesshared the results. (See sample on page 5.) or relates to the subject of the poem. I asked students to listen for recurring information across John Hollander’s “Swan and Shadow” from 1969 is athe poems, since that demonstrated what most students in- good example of how concrete poems can underscore aterpreted as important or interesting. Questions like these poem’s topic. (This poem is available on several Web sites.helped draw out students’ thoughts: One such is hollander1.html) G “What was the most surprising fact you learned about My one suggestion with the concrete poems is to re- this topic?” quire students to write or type the poem lines so they are G “If you were watching a television special about this readable by holding the paper from only one angle. The topic, what three facts would you expect it to focus model I’ve provided of the scorpion poem (see page 6) on?” did not follow that rule and demonstrates that, though inter- G “What one aspect of this topic made you want to esting, the reading becomes more difficult to enjoy. find out more about it?” The Recall Poem We also reviewed how the information was presented, Finally, found poetry can be also used as a method forand I asked students from different pairs to explain why helping the student and teacher assess what the studentthey chunked or organized information differently. Did they knows and has learned about a topic. I call this methodthink it was important to put the most important fact first? the “Recall” poem.What made them decide to group certain facts together? In this form a student must draft quickly all the informa- I also asked students to comment on what additional tion he or she knows about the concept in question. Thiswords they added and why. In some cases students added draft may be done as a freewrite, or, to place more focuswords to make the information seem more exciting; in oth- on clear purpose and audience, as a letter to a friend,ers, they added words to show a piece of information that parent, or guardian.they already knew, or they wanted to add a descriptive Then the student chooses words and phrases to create aword for interest. final “found poem” from within his or her draft. Students Questions about how and where to place punctuation can also be encouraged to incorporate questions in thewere decided later by students who desired to put the poem freewriting or the letter, if they realize there’s somethingin their writing portfolios. Overall, the students began their about the topic that they don’t understand or would like tostudy of THE PEARL with a greater appreciation for the power know more about.of a scorpion and of the pain inflicted upon Coyotito. This First I give these directions:exercise also made students more sensitive to the conflictsfaced by the family, including conflicts with nature, with As homework, read the article, “Encounter With a Deserteach other, and with society. Killer” by Lynnette Baughman. Read specifically for
  5. 5. OCTOBER 2005 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS 5 Sample Poem Based on Reader’s Digest Article Note: In case you’re wondering, the detail about scorpion length in the poem above is not a misprint! To quote Baughman’s article, “In England, four- to ten-foot long fossils have been found of scorpions with gills that lived in intertidal areas at that time.” effects of a scorpion bite and how it is treated. Know at G Its sting is invisible—no mark to give doctors a clue to least 6 of the 10 effects of the scorpion venom. the culprit. When students have completed the first step, I follow up G Crying, screaming, drooling, convulsions, vomiting,with directions for the “jot list” and the poem: glassy eyes, rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, cutting off airways Recall the information given in the article. Construct a G Garbled nerve messages poem in which you use that information to inform and G It can kill a young child or the elderly but would only describe the effects of a scorpion bite and how it may sicken a normal healthy adult. be treated. Include at least 6 of the 10 effects of the G The antidote? Is dependent upon a scorpion-milker, sting. Jot the list first and then format the information into an Arizona scientist, and four goats who produce a poem in a style and structure of your choice. the antidote. The goats are injected with a small doseHere’s a sample jot list, followed by the poem that resulted: of the scorpion venum. The shot (if you are not aller- gic) works immediately.Sample Jot List Prewriting G Peace and rest after the exhausting hours G The scientist buys the venom but then donates the an- G Straw-colored bark scorpion tidote. G The only deadly kind in the United States G Majority of antidote is donated free to hospitals. G Isn’t aggressive toward humans unless antagonized Southwestern areas like Arizona and Mexico M G
  6. 6. 6 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005 With just one shot of the antidote Sample Concrete Poem The victim will now love a goat. Skin color returns, the heart is stable, One no longer needs to lay on a table. Back to normal living, just in time And it won’t cost the hospitals a dime. From scorpion to goat to scientist, The venom’s impact took a twist— First it’s an ill now it’s a cure. But watch out, the glowing tail’s the lure! After students share their poems, class dis- cussion can help tie the content to the unit. In this case, we talked about issues such as the following: Was it an abuse of power for humans to use goats to create the antidote? Should the scientist donate the serum or should she charge money for it? Should there be a medical facility at each border stop in case of emergencies like this? We also compared what we’d learned to events in THE PEARL, and to the experiences of Coyotito, through questions like this: What would a poor mother do if she knew her son had just been bitten by a scorpion? What could she do legally? What would she do because of her morals or because of her love? This type of assignment is useful to the teacher in making an assessment of what knowledge has been retained. Has the student presented the important points? Has he or she omitted or confused facts? What statements indicate a gen- eral understanding of the topic? The pre-poem draft helps students to con- Revised Recall Poem cretely see what they know and then to ma- Straw-colored scorpion, type? Bark. nipulate the information to be more presentable. Leaves no mark, And if both the draft and the Recall poem are Yet, leaves the victim in pain required to be completed and turned in during Without much hope of gain. class time, there can be no doubt whose knowl- Crying, screaming, drooling too edge it is. Then vomiting ensues. All of these exercises may also be modified Next convulsions and glassy-eyed, to focus more on higher-level thinking; instead The elderly and kids can die! of having students simply gather and share in- Their heart will race, B.P. will raise, formation, a teacher can build in time for stu- garbled nerve messages often daze. dent questions, for more evaluation of the facts Air gets harder and harder to get, they gather, and for additional reflection and but on a goat let’s make a bet. writing on their findings. Once at the hospital the docs all know Found poetry is a versatile technique—it can To the refrigerator one must go, still be used to express individual hopes, dreams,
  7. 7. OCTOBER 2005 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS 7and fears, but, in today’s world of NCLB and students strug- letter to the Knave’s mother, the Sheriff filing a report, agling with reading, it can also be a valuable tool to help neighbor writing a letter to the Department of Social Ser-strengthen comprehension. With adaptation, these activi- vices, the King thinking better of his behavior and writingties can be useful to students at various grade levels. to the Knave and his family, writing the front page reportMichelle McLemore, Onsted High School, Onsted, Michigan for the local newspaper, writing a letter to the editor about unbecoming public behaviour, and so on.For more on concrete poems, vist the ReadWriteThink Web site Here are some of the prompts I use:at and read the lesson "DiscoveringPoetic Form and Structure Using Concrete Poems" (http:// G Assume you are the Sheriff who came to the incident. After talking to all the witnesses (Queen, King, Knave, Guard, etc.), you are ready to write your report. Write it in such a way that your supervisor knows exactlyA Nursery Rhyme Lends Itself to what happened, when, and why.Point of View G Assume that you are the reporter from the local news- paper who came to investigate the incident. After talking to This point-of-view lesson has been revised so many times all the witnesses (Queen, King, Knave, Guard, etc.), youthat I can’t remember where I originally discovered it. It’s are ready to write your article. Write it in such a way thatprobably most appropriate for middle school and lower the readers will know exactly what happened, when, where,level high school students, but could also be used with why, who the accused is, who the victim is, and so on.10th and 11th grade students who need more work withpoint of view. In it, students use different points of view to G Assume that you are the neighbor of the King andwrite several paragraphs directed to a specific audience, the Queen and that you happened to see the King beatingand then compare and discuss the results. the Knave. You think this is unacceptable—after all, the First, students spend 5–10 minutes getting into writing poor Knave is only 9 years old! Write a letter to the De-groups of four or five and choosing a scribe (to record) partment of Social Services explaining what you saw andand a reporter (to share with the class). what you think should be done about it. Next, using a transparency of the nursery rhyme “TheQueen of Hearts,” the teacher leads students through a G Assume you are the King. Now that you’ve had timeguided practice, by reading the nursery rhyme aloud and to think about it, you realize that you shouldn’t have re-asking questions: acted so strongly. Write a letter to the Knave and his family apologizing and offering him a peace offering. The Queen of Hearts G Assume you are the Queen. Write a letter to the The Queen of Hearts Knave’s mother telling her what he did and how you feel she made some tarts about it. all on a summer’s day. The Knave of Hearts G Assume you are the Knave and you are upset about he stole those tarts being beaten by the King. Write a letter to Dear Abby and took them clean away. explaining what happened and asking for advice. You can The King of Hearts choose to write a modern “Dear Abby” letter, using con- called for the tarts temporary language and diction, or an old-fashioned ver- and beat the Knave full sore. sion that matches the style of the nursery rhyme. The Knave of Hearts brought back the tarts As a model, show students a transparency of a sample and vowed he’d steal no more. response to a prompt. I show the following example of a Ask students who are the characters? What is happen- letter from the Knave to Dear Abby, and ask students howing? How might the main characters view the situation dif- this letter would be different if it were written by the Queen.ferently? What other minor characters/witnesses might there Dear Abby:be in a situation like this one? (King’s guard, neighbor, I was recently walking down the lane past the castle when Ipassersby, etc.) smelled a delicious aroma wafting towards me. I’m not a bad Next pass out a writing prompt to each group, reading youth and usually wouldn’t have been tempted, but you see, Ieach aloud as you distribute it, and explain that students was very hungry, since I hadn’t had any supper the night beforewill use these to explore different points of view. Situations and now it was way past breakfast time. I smelled that delicious aroma and couldn’t resist followingaddressed in prompts may include the Queen writing a M
  8. 8. 8 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005my nose. It led me straight to the window sill of the Queen’s IT by Mary Price Lee and LAST, FIRST, MIDDLE, AND NICK: ALLkitchen where she had set out a whole pan of tarts. Now, there ABOUT NAMES by Barbara Shook Hazen. I invite students towas a screened cooling room right off the kitchen where she bring baby-naming books and other appropriate referencescould have put those tarts and nary a soul would have been able from home. We take the research books to the classroomto get them. But no! She put them right in temptation’s way! It to go to work.almost looked as if she had baked too many and wanted to be Each group now has the job of finding the names of therid of some. And as I already said, I was pretty hungry, so I didit . . . I stole those tarts and with them did run away! characters and deciding if the name “fits” or not. The stu- But alas, someone saw me and told the king, and he beat me dents find to their amazement that the names are represen-full sore. I’m very upset and was wondering if you could advise tative of the personalities of the characters in the film. Weme upon my lawful rights. Does a King have the right to beat then discuss why these names were chosen and what thosesomeone up simply because he’s the King? And to be fair, choices say about the individuals who made them.shouldn’t he have offered me the chance to pay a fine instead? Since not all characters in the film have names in theThank you for listening to my plea. traditional sense, students have to use standard dictionaries Your friend, The Knave to find meanings for some. For example, the sea witch’s two eels are named Jetsam and Flotsam, which are words mean- Next, ask groups to brainstorm ideas for their prompt ing trash, something to be cast off. The students quickly pickand write their assignment, using their scribe to record it. up that in so naming them, the sea witch is making a state-Then for 10 to 15 minutes groups share their responses. ment about their worth, even though she speaks of them inDuring and after the sharing, help students see more by very affectionate terms. They are disposable, worthless, asasking questions such as, How was each group’s point of she demonstrates in the movie. And so we progress throughview different? What kinds of language helped show the the entire cast. Eric is a Norse name meaning strong, hand-different points of view? Did you find one point of view some. Ariel means light, airy, and was used by Shakespearemore believable than another? What effect does point of for a spirit. Triton is the mythological god of the sea. Sebastianview have on a story? is not so easy as the previous examples. The students may My students have always enjoyed this exercise and I’ve have to be prompted, since the etymology doesn’t fit thefound that it’s an effective way to get students writing and situation. Drawing on the music background of some stu-sensitize them to point of view. It works well at all class dents, I will ask students if the musician in the movie might belevels, and as either an individual or a group exercise. It’s the namesake of a famous musician. Students may figure itparticularly useful at the beginning of a term when you are out on their own, or they may need to resort to using a dictio-trying to get students to feel comfortable collaborating within nary of composers or other music reference. What they even-a peer writing group. tually figure out is that Sebastian is part of the name JohannMikki Burgess, Myers Park High School, Charlotte, North Sebastian Bach. (They speculate that, to avoid confusion, heCarolina preferred to be addressed by his middle name.) At this point we make a digression so that students can research their own names. In my class, Michael andVideos as Educational Tools Michelle were dismayed to discover that they really had A video can function as a valuable component of an the same name. And the whole class roared when Davidinstructional unit. I use the video of THE LITTLE MERMAID as the announced that his name meant “chosen one” and my namecore for a two-week literature unit which encompasses de- meant “barbarian.”velopment of reading, writing, and research skills in my After some discussion of our own names, we go back togeneral and accelerated seventh grade English classes. the library to research Hans Christian Andersen, his back- We begin our study by viewing the movie from the Walt ground and contributions to our literary history. StudentDisney studios. As we watch the film, I ask students to make groups are assigned specific information to locate. Sincea list of all the characters. we completed a unit on library research skills earlier, stu- After the lists are complete, I divide the class into groups dents are already familiar with the concept of the best sourceof four to five students. Each group has the responsibility of for specific information. I give the groups the name Hanswriting a description for one or two characters. We dis- Christian Andersen and the fact he was from Denmark.cuss character sketches, emphasizing that the description One group uses an atlas to locate Denmark in the worldincludes traits of personality and behavior as well as ap- community. They also list all the facts they can find aboutpearance. We then go to the library to find sources of the country from that source. (I don’t allow them to use thenames. The better sources not only list possible names but encyclopedia as a source on this project because I want togive meanings, origins, examples from history and/or lit- reinforce earlier learning about all the other sources oferature. We also use such books as YOUR NAME: ALL ABOUT information that are available.) A second group finds out
  9. 9. OCTOBER 2005 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS 9about Denmark in Andersen’s days by using history books. ending. One or two of the “thinkers” thought the originalThe third group uncovers information about modern Den- version was better because it brought up the question ofmark, and the fourth group finds out about Andersen him- choices and long-term consequences of those choices. Aself by using biographical dictionaries and author books. few students were disturbed that, even in literature, a char-Upon completion of their research, each group compiles a acter would think of sacrificing her immortal soul for love,report to be shared with the class. adding that no one was worth that sacrifice. The next step is to study the fairy tale of the little mer- We used a video, primarily intended for entertainment,maid as found in literature. Many students are amazed to as a beginning point for a unit of study that encompassedlearn that the Walt Disney studios did not create the char- a large number of literary skills, vocabulary developmentacter of the little mermaid. With that discovery, we are skills, grammar and writing skills, and higher order thinkingready to read the story as a class. Since even seventh skills. Both the students and I were pleased with this verygraders like to be read to on occasion, and students learn productive break in read better by hearing others, I begin reading the clas- Barbara Brookshire, Bristol, Tennessee School District (retired).sic aloud. This article was adapted and reprinted with permission from When I used this activity recently, I developed laryngitis the TENNESSEE ENGLISH JOURNAL, (October 1995), a publicationthe second day into the reading. Several students, even of the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English, an affiliatereluctant readers, volunteered to read since no one wanted of NCTE. Visit stop. One student, a noted clown, actually became thebest reader as he performed for the class. Soon they beggedme not to pass the book to someone else. This young man FOCUS ON LITERATUREhad found an outlet for his creative energies. As we read we noted vocabulary words on the board. Art Imitating Life: The 1950s andLater we would discuss meaning and usage and add thewords to the students’ notebooks. After we finished the story Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLEwe discussed the differences between the printed version Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE is a drama that students findand the movie version. We talked about the different require- fascinating for its historical reflection of the time period.ments of the different media and why some of these differ- What high school junior would not be riveted to the Salemences were necessary to convey the story and why others Witchcraft trials brought to life in the moral dilemma ofcame about because of the taste of the movie-going public. John Proctor? Reading the play daily with students assigned One student had brought a copy of the story from home the various roles makes for dynamic classroom sessions.intending to read along as we read in class. She soon The 1996 film version (starring Daniel Day-Lewis andannounced that my version wasn’t the real one since it was Winona Rider) interfaced with or following the readingdifferent from hers. We discovered that the two versions always dramatically fleshes out the intricate plot. The playhad different translators and this led to story changes pro- provides for pivotal multidisciplinary or even interdiscipli-duced by translation. It had not occurred to the students nary opportunities when the English and History Depart-that Andersen did not write in English. ments collaborate. This year I created a unit on the play A word of caution. As we made our comparison, stu- with four component parts that tapped into a variety ofdents brought up the implied message of an eternal life in intelligences. The content of the unit follows.the original version and that the little mermaid could choosethat life if she wished or she could satisfy her immediate Researchdesires and have a greatly limited life span. My class was Students first visited the computer lab for the expressable to discuss this as a theme in literature without offend- purpose of researching online any historical happenings ining anyone’s personal convictions. However, depending the 1950’s that connected to THE CRUCIBLE’S plot and theme.on your own situation and community climate, you might Arthur Miller published his play in 1953. The question posedwant to avoid this discussion. was: What was occurring at this time that might have influ- For an evaluation of the unit I asked the students to choose enced Miller to write his play? Is his play purely historicalthree additional characters and write a character sketch of drama, or is it a critical reflection of contemporary issuesthem. Then I asked them to compare and contrast the two occurring during his time? The Hollywood Ten, the Housepresentations of the story—the written version and the film on Un-American Activities, the trial and execution of theversion. Finally they were to tell which version they liked Rosenbergs, the Cold War and the fear of communismbetter and why they preferred it. were among the many “hits” found connecting the plot of Predictably, most of the students chose the film version Miller’s play to the time period within which he was writingas their favorite, mainly because of the “happy-ever-after” M
  10. 10. 10 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005it. As students began their research, I introduced them to the The resulting posters (see illustration on page 11) showedpitfalls of plagiarism and conducted an exercise about para- a variety of resourceful and ingenious efforts. Some stu-phrasing. I explained that we would discuss the format for dents used their drawing talents; others cut pictures fromcitations in more detail on a later visit to the computer lab. magazines; others printed graphics or pictures from the Internet, which they pasted to poster board. The film ver-Creating and Judging Posters sion of THE CRUCIBLE was a source of graphics for the Salem After having secured all of this information, students were Witchcraft Trials. Here then was Daniel Day-Lewis stand-asked to create a poster that interfaced the 1950’s with ing on the gallows, or Winona Ryder pointing to the ceil-scenes and words from THE CRUCIBLE. The poster could be ing at an imaginary invisible bird. Here also were the youngtheir own artistic rendering and/or a collage of words and girls in the courtroom accusing everyone of witchcraft. Thepictures taken from various sources. Each student was as- Internet also provided images from historical sites aboutsigned a number to place in the corner on the front of the the trials of 1692. In addition, students found photos ofposter—no names were to appear on the face of the project. Joseph McCarthy or the Hollywood Ten or headlines aboutIn this way anonymity would exist in the judging of the the Rosenbergs’ execution to help depict the Red scare.posters by students in another English class. The students’ Other creative elements included:names were only to appear on the rear of the poster on a G photos on opposing sides of the poster with a light-rubric distributed to them in advance. (See sample below.) ning bolt or a noose separating the two.
  11. 11. OCTOBER 2005 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS 11 G an actual rope made into a noose, with the poster cut The ballots were counted and the individual with the to fit its formation. highest number of votes was deemed to be the first place G color-coding, with one color denoting the 1950s winner; the second highest the second place winner, and and another, 1692 and the witchcraft trials. so on. These posters were displayed above the chalkboard G a series of fingers pointing from one person to an- in the front of the room for about a month, and the students other to depict frenzy. were ceremoniously rewarded the extra points. Although the artistically inclined students were able to Writing in Response to THE CRUCIBLEdepict these images through skillful renderings, it was the As a third aspect of the unit, students were asked todesign, layout, and interconnectedness shown across the write a short essay entitled, “Art Imitating Life: The 1950sboard that was most impressive. and Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE.” Now they were to craft a written work that focused on the Communist “witch hunt” of the 1950s that was the backdrop for Miller’s dramatic and historical counterpart. In order to accomplish this assignment, I arranged a second visit to the computer lab. Students visited many of the same sites that connected the Salem witchcraft trials with the Communist witch hunt. In addition, I introduced students to the Galenet Student Resource Center, a data- base available through the school to all visitors both on and off campus. Here were hundreds of published articles available to be read and either printed or downloaded to their home e-mail. At this point, since students were required with this assign- ment to have a Works Cited page and use parenthetical references in the body of the paper, I also introduced them to On the targeted date that posters were due, each student the Landmarks Citation Machine (,was to informally present an oral report to the class on the a free online site that allows students to plug in informationposter and what it reflected. Reporting to the class was a in blocks for MLA citation formatting. This is a stress-freefive-point grade based on preparation and fulfillment of the and technologically advanced manner to present the guide-task—this was not a formal speech with specific guidelines. lines for MLA citations. It also would prove invaluable in All of the posters were collected onto one table in front of preparation for the research paper that would be requiredthe room. The following day the posters were displayed on later in the school year.desks around the classroom. Now each class was to review Since the manual for using parenthetical references andthe posters of their peers in another class and vote for the top citing a Web page are both included in the Englishthree—the winners would receive predetermined extra credit Department’s folder located at the school’s Web page, herepoints. I handed out the assessment worksheet on page 12. was also an active way of introducing them to that site. As an Students were very intent and conscientious in judging aside, even if one’s school does not have a Web page contain-the posters of their classmates. A lively discussion followed ing this information, students could be directed to Landmarkstheir balloting. One student commented, “I’m amazed that Citations Machine or the MLA site to model the proper format.the person who created poster #6 came up with the idea For assessment of the essay, I used a traditional rubricof having the silhouette of people attending a performance that provided space for evaluating pertinent aspects (Con-and viewing both the witchcraft trials and those testifying tent, Documentation, MLA Format, Introduction, Body Para-before Senator McCarthy on a screen. That’s why I voted graphs, Transitions, Conclusion, and Grammatical Errors)for that one.” Another student reacted, “But don’t you think as to whether each was Striking, Satisfactory, or Weak, or,there should have been more images connecting the two? in some cases, for indicating Yes or No (as when indicat-I think #5 with fingers pointing in all directions at each ing whether MLA format was followed).other more clearly shows that once mob mentality sets in, it Viewing and Evaluating the Filmis tough to stop it.” “I agree—the finger pointing really gets Although we had orally read and analyzed the play into me and clearly reflects whether called a witch or a Com- class, drama was specifically written for performance. Themunist, people are often afraid to be different and are next best thing to a live presentation of THE CRUCIBLE is a filmmore than willing to pass the buck and turn the spotlight onsomeone else,” affirmed yet another. M
  12. 12. 12 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005adaptation that does the work justice. I show the class the Writing in response to the film produced thoughtful and1996 Nicholas Hytner version of Miller’s play. (Also avail- insightful observations from students. Some sample journalable is a 1957 French film adaptation with Simone Signoret entries follow:and Yves Montand, for which Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the Journal Entry: The Actorsscreenplay.) Daniel-Day Lewis was the perfect John Proctor, but We spent three consecutive days in class viewing this Winona Ryder was too squeaky and there was no chem-124-minute feature, in order to bring to life visually the istry between them. I thought Paul Scofield was good asunfolding of the dramatic piece. I asked students to collect well as Joan Allen as Elizabeth, but the most trouble-data each day during and/or subsequent to the screening some actor to me was Bruce Davison. He did not seemin the form of journal entries. This was to prepare them for to match my mental image of the Reverend Parris, nei-the final aspect of THE CRUCIBLE project, which was to write ther in appearance nor in action. He was overly dra-a film review. I presented directions in advance and to- matic. The same can be said for Karron Graves whogether we examined photocopies of recent film reviews played the role of Mary Warren.from local newspapers to see how critical film reviews arewritten. Journal Entry: The Conclusion For this step, I provided a handout page of directions I was moved to tears with the rope dangling in the breezefor viewing and responding to the film (see page 13).
  14. 14. 14 CLASSROOM NOTES PLUS OCTOBER 2005 in silence with the voices of those hung recit- Often subject to extreme critical analysis, the task is often over- ing a prayer and then no longer heard. It was whelming. Far too frequently, the results leave one less than satis- powerful. I think I did not realize that real fied. How much more difficult is it to transfer what is regarded as people lost their lives to such stupidity until I a classic to film? Yet recently, Nicholas Hytner has seemingly ac- saw this scene. What a great way for the di- complished the impossible. He took an historical drama with so- rector to communicate the foolish loss of life cial implications written by Arthur Miller in 1953 and created a or reputation for a “just” cause. film—although weak in some respects—but certainly deserving of a positive nod from this critic. Journal: Rating the Film On a scale of 1–5 (worst to best) I would rate Conclusion this film a 4. It was mostly true to Miller’s play This then was a powerful multidisciplinary unit that sparked the that we read in class—only a few scenes interest of the students through the examination of two provocative changed or added. The casting was okay in eras in American History; here also was a unit that challenged the most cases, but I felt that the courtroom scenes student’s Web searching ability while assessing their reading, artis- were too fast paced and the ending came tic, oral, and written communication skills as well as their ability to too quickly without realizing the agony that critically judge both the work of their peers and a professional show- John Proctor went through in making his deci- case. The students loved it—I highly recommended it to the reader. sion (something that we discussed at length in Ronald T. Sion, Cranston High School East, Cranston, Rhode Island class). Students’ film reviews also showed a depth ofthought and a careful attention to the film reviewmodels they’d examined. Here’s a sample firstparagraph from a review which gave the 1996film version of THE CRUCIBLE a “Thumbs Up”: For quite some time film makers have tried to successfully transfer a work of literature to film. NOTES2006 Student AwardsJanuary 27, 2006, is the entry deadline to nomi-nate your high school juniors for NCTE’s Achieve-ment Awards in Writing Program. January 20,2006, is the deadline for entries and papers forthe Promising Young Writers Program for eighth-grade students. Visit for details.African American Read-InOn Sunday and Monday, February 5 and 6,2006, NCTE will join the NCTE Black Caucusin sponsoring the seventeenth national AfricanAmerican Read-In Chain. This years goal is tohave at least one million Americans across thenation reading works by African American writ-ers on Sunday, February 5. Monday, February6, is the date designated for read-ins in schools.Visit for details.
  15. 15. October Calendar Entry on Teen Read Week The ReadWriteThink Calendar provides links to classroom activities and online resources associated with events in literacy and literature. Each entry includes background information, a classroom activity, lesson plans, Web resources, and related texts. This calendar entry celebrates the 2005 Teen Read Week, with the focus on nonfiction. For more nonfiction lesson plans to help celebrate Teen Read Week, visit the ReadWriteThink site Explore Horror & Suspense Fiction October is also a great month to explore horror and suspense fiction. Stu- dents can investigate connections between the life and writings of Edgar Allan Poe in the ReadWriteThink lesson “Modeling Reading and Analysis Processes with the Works of Edgar Allan Poe.” The ReadWriteThink lesson “Ghosts and Fear in Language Arts: Exploring the Ways Writers Scare Readers” focuses on the craft of writing and reading frightening stories.CLASSROOM NOTESNational Council of Teachers of English1111 W. Kenyon RoadUrbana, IL 61801-1096