Monthly Archives: December 2012

English 9 Enriched: Homeric Similes

Now that The Odyssey is in full swing, as per the Common Core Standards, we are doing close reading of excerpts of the text.

The first thing we did was examine the prologue very carefully.  Once we went through it line by line, we looked at the function of the prologue.  It took a bit of pulling to get literary terms like “characterization” and “foreshadowing,” but we eventually got there.  One thing I don’t do is spoon feed the answers, so when they didn’t get it at first, I started singing television prologues.   Sadly, the older I get, the fewer kids get my TV allusions!  Nobody got my singing of The Brady Bunch, a couple recognized The Fresh Prince of BelAir, … and EVERYONE got Sponge Bob Squarepants!  Oy.

The students had read The Odyssey over the summer for plot, so now we can work on literary analysis…that’s what our class time is for!  Today I pulled seven Homeric similes from Chapters 5-8 and put the list on the board.  Each group had its choice of a different simile to work with (I have six groups in class).  For their chosen simile, they had to create a poster with the following:

  • identify the character in the simile;
  • draw a picture of whatever the character is being compared to;
  • use the simile as a caption (complete with quotation marks and parenthetical citation);
  • and explain the effectiveness of the comparison.

This actually went a lot better than the close reading of the prologue!  When each group presented its poster, students had to follow along in the book, and since these are their own texts that they purchased, I had them annotate each simile.  We then talked about how Homer’s use of the simile was more effective than simply saying, “Hermes flew quickly to Calypso’s island.”   The simile paints a picture of HOW FAST he was flying (Hermes was compared to a gull diving for fish).

The next step is for students to create their own Homeric similes and post them on their classroom website (I have a site for each of my five classes).   The only stipulation I have is that the similes must be school appropriate!

This exercise accomplished several tasks:

  • student choice from a controlled list (but still student choice)
  • close reading of the text
  • interpretation of the text
  • analytical writing
  • collaborative group work
  • creation of a Visible Thinking poster
  • proper citation of text
  • speaking in front of the class
  • several models given as exemplars from the text
  • annotation
  • mirroring an author’s style
  • creative writing
  • appropriate use of technology
  • online publishing

This is a collection of the final posters:

Homeric Similes


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Filed under Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, English 9 Enriched

English 9 Enriched: Odyssey “Who’s Who?” Mini Posters

Bulletin Board masks

In preparation for reading The Odyssey, it’s necessary to get the whole “Who’s Who?” thing down right from the get go.  One activity that I do is to have students draw names of Greek Gods and Goddesses, Trojan War heroes, and creatures/monsters from The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Enriched students then research the character and create a mini-poster that introduces the character to the class.  The poster needs to include the following:

  • The hand printed lettering must relate to the character in some way.  Students create own letters that reflect some aspect of the god/goddess/hero/creature;
  • They must include a symbol that tells us something about the character;
  • And they must include a brief “bio” for the character.

On the due date, they take turns introducing “themselves.”  I also encourage them to take on the personae of the character, but that doesn’t always pan out.

While the enriched kids make mini-posters, the regents kids make masks that also introduce the characters.  I then create a bulletin board with the posters next to the corresponding masks.  This gives us a giant “Who’s Who?” point of reference for when we are reading.

Some close-ups are included below:

Athena Charybdis Helen Hephaestus Persephone

Dionysus Hades Poseidon Zeus

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Filed under Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, English 9 Enriched

English 9 Regents: Greek Masks

Bulletin Board masks

In preparation for reading The Odyssey, it’s necessary to get the whole “Who’s Who?” thing down right from the get go.  One activity that I do is to have students draw names of Greek Gods and Goddesses, Trojan War heroes, and creatures/monsters from The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Students then research the character and create a mask that introduces the character to the class.  On the due date, they put their masks on and take turns introducing “themselves.”  I also encourage them to take on the personae of the character, but that doesn’t always pan out.

While the regents kids make masks, the enriched kids make mini-posters that also introduce the characters.  I then create a bulletin board with the posters next to the corresponding masks.  This gives us a giant “Who’s Who?” point of reference for when we are reading.

Some close-ups are included below:

Athena Charybdis Helen Hephaestus Persephone

Dionysus Hades Poseidon Zeus

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Filed under Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, English 9 Regents

Visible Thinking: The Epic- A Live Performance

CharlieToday I had my students watch a clip from a live performance of Gilgamesh by my friend, Charlie Bethel.  Since we are beginning The Odyssey, we have been discussing what a live performance by Homer might have been like.  Like Homer, Charlie performs as a one-man show without costumes, sets, or props– he relies on his voice, facial expressions, and gesticulations.   As we watched, I asked students to write down ten things they noticed about his performance.  After the clip, students then shared their observations and went on to write three things they thought and three things they wondered about the actor’s performance.

While they were writing their thinks and wonders, I called Charlie and then put him on speaker-phone so that he could hear their responses and answer their questions (wonders).   First, they applauded him enthusiastically.  When he began to speak, it was amazing how quiet the room became as students leaned in to hear what he had to say (the speaker on my phone was not very loud).  They took turns sharing first what they saw, then what they thought, and finally what they wondered as they came up to place their Post-It Notes on the front board.  They took care to come to the phone to speak into it as they were sharing their notes, and  Charlie was gracious enough to answer all of their questions about his preparations for such a performance.


All of this is leading up to their own performances of the New York Odyssey that they will be creating.  Students then wrote paragraphs describing what they saw in Gilgamesh and how they could take the advice of the actor to aid in their own renditions of The Odyssey.

I think this was a great interaction between the actor and the students, and their enthusiasm for the upcoming assignment was evident.  I look forward to seeing what they will come up with!

Thank you, Charlie Bethel!

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Filed under Domain 3: Instruction, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Visible Thinking

Every Bone Tells a Story: Vocabulary Work

Every bone tells a story

Student driven exercises are listed on the APPR rubric under the “Distinguished” category, so I allowed students to choose their own vocabulary words for this unit.

(Vocabulary Work):  This may take 2-3 classes depending on the length of the period- first day for identifying individual lists and defining, next day for compiling into one list of ten for each group, and then the last day for preparing and sharing each group’s master list and making vocab cards.  Since the book Every Bone Tells a Story is divided into four sections, one for each hominin (Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Iceman),  I broke the class into four study groups.  Each group was instructed to divide the pages of their chapters so that each individual was looking on different pages (as a way to avoid too many repeated vocabulary words on their primary lists).  We then proceeded as follows:


Identify ten vocabulary words that every ninth grader should learn to use appropriately in writing.  Scientific terms would not fit in this running vocabulary list because they are not words that could be used as often.  I am looking for words that students will ingest and begin to use on a regular basis.  Don’t just pick ten words from pages 1-3 and call it a day… REALLY look for strong, solid words throughout the entire section.  Create a word list, look up their definitions in the dictionary, and copy those definitions on a sheet of paper.  NOTE:  check with your compadres in your group to make sure that you do not all have exactly the same words.  2-3 in common is okay, but if you have more than that, dig back into the reading.  YOU WILL HAVE TO JUSTIFY YOUR WORD CHOICES.  Once everyone has ten words, put your heads together and select the BEST ten words from among your individual lists and make a master list on another sheet.  Make sure that each member has contributed to the master list.  Once your group is satisfied with its choices, bring the master list to me for final approval.  Every member will then make a 3×5 vocab card for each word.

  • There will end up being 4 master vocabulary lists, one from each group
  • Once members have their cards completed, they will pass their master list to the next group.  COPY the group’s master list (cards will be made for homework later).
  • Make sure to put the list number in the upper right hand corner of each vocabulary card so that you study the right words for the right quiz!
  • Pass master lists until you end up with four lists of ten words from each of the groups.  These will be your four vocabulary lists for quizzes (some words may repeat from group to group; that’s okay).  Cards will have to be made for each word list (potentially 40 words if there aren’t any repeats… in a truly dream world!)
  • The vocabulary quizzes will be given in this order:
    • Quiz 1: from Turkana Boy
    • Quiz 2: from Lapedo Child
    • Quiz 3: from Kennewick Man
    • Quiz 4: from Iceman

–          For quizzes: For the first quiz, have kids take out a sheet of paper, number 1-10, and read the definitions of the ten words from the Turkana Boy list.  Kids have to write the words and spell them correctly.  For the second quiz, shuffle in the words from Lapedo Child with those from Turkana Boy, and then choose ten from the composite list of 20… don’t tell the kids which ten so that they are responsible for learning all of them.  You can then add one or two bonus words for that quiz.  For the third quiz, add in the next list and choose from 30; the same for quiz 4 to make it ten out of 40.

–          Administering Quizzes:

  • Students number their papers from 1-10
  • Read each definition twice; students must write the appropriate word and spell it correctly (none of the words are proper nouns, so none will be capitalized)
  • Exchange papers for grading:
    • 10 points if it is the appropriate word and is spelled correctly without capitalization
    • 5 points if the spelling of the word is 1 or 2 letters off (a capital is a letter off because none are proper nouns)
    • 0 points is it is more than 2 letters off the correct spelling.

    Since the students had a choice in which words would be on the quizzes, they had a vested interest in performing better on the vocabulary quizzes.   In the past, I have given out pre-made lists, and the kids complained about the word choices as being “too hard.”   Ironically, after I had them do the word-hunting, they actually selected most of the same words that I would have!  However, since they picked them, there were no complaints!  Also, their quiz scores were higher than in past years.

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Filed under Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 3: Instruction, English 9 Enriched

Visible Thinking: Meeting the Common Core

One thing that I have noticed about the APPR rubric is that in order to get a “4” (high distinction), it’s necessary to make the classes more student driven than teacher driven.  A tall order for someone who likes to feel in control of what’s going on in the classroom!  I did, though, turn to the students for input as to what kinds of non-fiction ideas they had to go with the literature we’d be working with in the second through fourth quarters (I had already planned out the first quarter before school began).

I approached it using two Visible Thinking exercises.

First, I played the Opening Ceremonies from the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London.  Sadly, the video I used has been removed from YouTube as the 2012 Olympic extravaganza has been released as a DVD.  Money to be made, I suppose.  However, I was fortunate enough to tap into the video before its disappearance.  We watched the opening sequence that involved the pastoral setting of the early British Isles, including the traditional songs sung by the children in each of the countries of Great Britain.   We continued watching through the Kenneth Branagh and Industrial Revolution sequence all the way to the forging of the One Ring to Rule Them All.  vt6

While they were watching, the students did a “See/Think/Wonder” routine, and the topic was to look for evidence of the arts (poetry, literature, music, dance),  factual information (history), and the sciences (engineering, physics, etc).  The picture is the collection of their observations and thoughts that they shared about the Opening Ceremony.

After sharing their observations, their task was to examine how the arts, history and science were woven together to create such a spectacle.  The idea was to come up with ways to integrate literature and informational text so as to create an English 9 experience that would blend together as smoothly as the Olympic Ceremony.

The next step was to have each student come up with an idea for some kind of informational texts we might use to accompany The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, and Frankenstein.   I gave them more Post-It Notes, and each shared ideas for what we might be able to incorporate that would help us to meet the Common Core Standards and the PARCC framework.

For The Odyssey, one of my favorites was to look at stories about soldiers returning from war in Afghanistan.  I ended up expanding upon the idea to have them choose a war and learn about how soldiers adjusted upon their return.  I also gave them the option of investigating how those at home dealt with life while loved ones served or, like after Odysseus left Troy, became MIA.

Romeo and Juliet brought the expected teen suicide ideas, so we will be brainstorming that one again as we get closer to the third quarter.

With Frankenstein, we will look at the early 19th century horror of the thought of reanimating dead tissue is now an every day occurrence on modern operating tables, as well as the modern shuddering at stem cell research.

These ideas came from the kids, and because they have invested their own ideas, I expect that they shall put forth greater effort than if I had announced these same topics.

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Filed under Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Visible Thinking

Visible Thinking: Overview

Of all the workshops and professional development I have taken over the years, I must say that the Visible Thinking workshop is by far the BEST PD I have ever taken.  Using Visible Thinking routines has changed the way I teach writing in my classes.

Visible Thinking Cover

If you have not seen this book, then get thee to an Amazon account!  It is filled with routine exercises that get all students involved, even your most reluctant participant.   Even if you only select one or two routines to use throughout the year, regular use will soon have students knowing what to expect when they see Post-It Notes and poster paper!

If you click on the book, it will take you to Visible Thinking website where you can find a wealth of free materials to get you started.

My VT routine of choice is “See/Think/Wonder,” and I use it at least once a week with all five of my classes.  (By the way, using routines like this help to fulfill the “routine writing” component of the PARCC framework.)

This is how I consistently use “See/Think/Wonder” with my kids:

  • First, I had them bring in a journal that we could keep in class.
  • I have them open to a clean page in the journal, and then give them a topic heading for the exercise.
  • Students write the words “I see” on the next line, and then number a column 1-10.
  • I place some sort of a visual prompt on the front screen.  I have used paintings, maps, photographs, music videos, movie clips (for those exercises that also involve audio, such as a video, I have them alter the phrase at the top to “I Notice” so that they include not only what they see, but what they hear.  If I decide to simply use a piece of music or a recorded performance, then I modify the phrase to “I Hear”)
  • Students look closely and write down ten things they see (or notice, or hear) in the prompt.  In the beginning of the  year, they listed the most obvious items using little more than one word at a time.  As we continue to do the routine, students are now looking for details that others may have missed.  In the first quarter, I was satisfied with a list of nouns as their details.  Now that we are in the second quarter, I am requiring adjective/noun combinations.  In quarter three, we shall move to adjective/adjective/noun combinations (in honor of the Bard).
  • Once each has generated a list of ten items, they have to go find a compadre in the class, and the two share lists.  As they are sharing, I have them put a check mark next to items they have seen in common (these are usually the most obvious details).  I give them about five minutes to do the sharing.
  • After each person has shared with a partner, the students return to their own desks and then write “I Think” and “I Wonder” below the “I See” list.  They must then write (in a complete sentence that uses a subordinating conjunction– an explaining word) three things they THINK about what they have seen and then three things they WONDER about what they have seen (or heard).   Because I have them link their “I Think” and “I Wonder” statements to the topic provided at the beginning of the exercise, this eliminates statements like, “I think this is stupid” or “I wonder why those guys don’t get a haircut?” (that was one response to a music video).
  • While they are writing their “I Think” and “I Wonder” statements, I go around the room and give everyone a Post-It Note.  I have modified the original exercise from Making Thinking Visible to make sure that I get examples of all three statements, and I use three different colored Post-Its each time I do the routine; however, I mix up the colors from class to class so that each student doesn’t know which statement that he/she will have to share once they are done writing.  This has helped to make sure that all students complete all parts of the exercise.  If the student knew that his color was for an “I See” statement right away, then there would be little incentive for him/her to complete the “I Think” or “I Wonder” to the best of his ability (intrinsic rewards for a job well done just don’t seem to come natural to 9th graders yet…but I am working on that!).
  • As they finish their statements, I announce: “Anyone with a pretty purple Post-It, write down the most significant thing you saw that your partner didn’t see.  Anyone with a pretty pink Post-It, write down the most significant thing you think about what you have seen.  Anyone with a pretty blue Post-It, write down the most significant thing you wonder about what you have seen.  You have two minutes to fill in your Post-It Note, and when you are done, hold them in the air so that I see a sea of Skittles out there!”
  • Once they are ready, I ask those with the “I See” statements (or the pretty purple Post-Its) to stand up.  Each takes turns reading from their sticky note, and then places it on a giant sticky note poster that I have ready on the front board.  After we hear the list of things that these students saw, I repeat the process with the “I Think” and “I Wonder” Post-Its.
  • After all students have had a chance to share and place their sticky on the poster, it’s time for the writing exercise.

The English Department of the Webster Central School District has embraced the Jane Schaffer method for teaching writing, and I have found that the “See/Think/Wonder” routine lends itself perfectly to the Schaffer Method.  Basically, this is a formulated way of writing paragraphs:

1  Concrete Detail (CD) + 2 Sentences of Commentary (CMs) = 1 Chunk

Chunks are placed between a Topic Sentence (TS) and a Closing Sentence (CS) to complete a Schaffer paragraph.  While this may seem too formulaic for realistic writing, it certainly does away with the plot summaries (all CDs) and pure opinion pieces (all CMs) that many students write.  For a better idea of the Jane Schaffer Method, click the link:


If you look at the “See/Think/Wonder” routine, you will notice that the ten things the students see will become their Concrete Details (CDs) and what they think and wonder become their Commentary (CMs).  They have already identified the less obvious details by checking off things that other students have already noticed, so they can focus on the less obvious, yet possibly significant details that may relate to the topic.

Believe it or not, this entire process can be completed in less than an hour, including writing a solid two-chunk paragraph!  Once you get into the routine, things just move along like clockwork!

I will be sharing specific examples from both my enriched and regents classes.

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