Text-To-Text Lessons: Answering Key Questions about Literature and Life

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Patrick Henry College writes a compelling argument for reading literature. He proposes that literature is an interpretative representation of the human experience. He contends that literature “doesn’t simply reflect life—it focuses it. It’s a mirror, but a special kind of mirror. It’s a mirror in which we can see ourselves even more clearly, more vividly than in an ordinary mirror.” Literature, he explains, helps wake up our senses by providing the ultimate context for our values and worldview. “Literature gives us truth digested. Literature gives us an excellent opportunity to examine our own ultimate assumptions about life and to compare them with those of others.”

College presents a very good case for having students study literature. But wait, there is more.

What if we ask students to take reading of literature one-step further and situate the literary particular worldview alongside another? Let’s look at reading literature in comparison to relevant non-fiction news articles and further elaborate a particular aspect of the text.

Why might we encourage students to make connections between a text they are reading and another story or text they might read?

Well, a text-to-text comparison helps students comprehend the primary fictional text as well as to make meaning of their actual world. It makes the issues broader, more universal than the book they are reading. Additionally, such a comparison can make reading more interesting for students by providing context, making a connection to an idea or issue the a reader cares about, or demonstrating real world relevance.

Here is a good article on the rationale for using text-to-text connections.

According to Facing History, this strategy can be used at any point of the reading process – at the start to get students engaged with a text, in the middle to help students understand the text more deeply, or at the end to evaluate students’ understanding of the text.

What does the strategy look like? Facing History suggests the following prompts.

Ask students to consider the following: How do the ideas in this text remind you of another text (story, book, movie, song, etc)? Complete one of the following statements:

  • What I just read reminds me of ___________________ (story/book/movie/song) because…
  • The ideas in this text are similar to the ideas in ___________________ because….
  • The ideas in this text are different than the ideas in ­­­___________________ because….

The Learning Network through the New York Times provides free teaching and learning materials and ideas based on New York Times content. The following are two excellent examples of using New York Times articles in conjunction with middle school level texts for English. There are resources for a number of disciplines beyond English. And the articles provide inter-disciplinary points of entry.

For example, in the text-to-text comparison for the ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘A Fight Club for Flies’, the Learning Network offers articles to take a closer look at the notion of aggression. Students can look at the idea of aggression as a whole and not only the male aggression Golding depicts in the Lord of the Flies; there is female vs. female aggression, soldier aggression gone awry, child vs. child aggression, aggression on the athletic field, and online aggression in the form of cyber-bulling. There is even an article on fruit fly aggression, specifically the difference between male and female fruit fly brains and how this may have application for humans. Thus, students build a context for their understanding of the literary themes of a text and also of the human experience. They can better weigh in on a key question raised by Lord of the Flies -What is the relationship between aggression and gender?

For the text-to-text comparison for To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names’, Facing History writer, Laura Tavares gathers a number of historical articles to help students understand the gravity of the scene in which Scout, Jem, and Dill follow Atticus to the town square late at night on the eve of Tom Robinson’s trial. Because as Travares notes, we experience the scene through the eyes of 8-year-old Scout, we can miss the scene’s significance ie.. Atticus and Scout have diverted an attempted lynching of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Students who have knowledge about the history of racial lynching in the United States will have a much greater appreciation of the scene. The lesson also has a link to Duke University’s project Beyond the Veil which features oral interviews with African-Americans who lived from the 1890s to the 1950s. Students can compare these stories to the character of Tom Robinson. The article also profiles other upstanders, real people comparable to the fictional Atticus Finch, and their contributions to resist racial inequity. Through such text-to-text comparisons students will see have a better grasp of the issue of race and justice both for Tom, Jem, Atticus, and Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and for black Americans in our communities today.

The New York Times encourages educators to post lessons to the web-page using comparable text-to-text comparisons with their articles. Is there a book you are using in the classroom that lends itself to a key question that might be further understood by a text-to-text comparison? Do you see another rich source such as the Times to search for them?

From Getting Ready Each Morning to Performing Academic Tasks: The Transfer of Executive Functioning Skills

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Each morning, it is easier and faster for me in the moment to lay out my children’s clothing, pack their lunch, prepare their breakfast, set-up their toothbrushes, and line up their coats and shoes. However, I recognize that I will never escape my role as nagging taskmaster unless I turn over these processes to them. In the same way that I can best serve my 3 year-old and 4 year-old to independently undertake life’s tasks, teachers need to be deliberate in supporting students to strike out on a path to self-directed learning and self-determined living. These considerations are well articulated by Edutopia writer Donna Wilson in her article, “Strategies for Strengthening the Brain’s Executive Functions.

Wilson and others define executive as the essential self-regulating skills that we use to plan for and handle the daily responsibilities that take organization and follow-through. Such skills help us target appropriate goals, organize priorities, make decisions, shift between situations requiring our attention, control our emotions, and learn from past mistakes

In the morning if as a family we were to establish a routine for getting ready; set a time-limit to keep things moving; create a checklist of the tasks on our white board for them to check off; and even provide a reward of a little screen time when we finish these tasks in a timely manner, I could then hand over the responsibility of completing these tasks to my children. My little ones will be more pleased because they have greater autonomy in terms of what they are wearing and what they are eating and I will be more pleased because I will have less to do each morning.

Considering my own daily responsibilities and the harried mornings with my children can provide points of connection and application for students in the classroom. When I think about intentionally teaching students how to build executive functioning skills, I draw a blank because those processes are now automatic for me. But there are moments in my own life when the number of things seems to do seems a bit out of control, I can think about the strategies I use to get back on track.

First, I often talk out the difficulties with my husband. Students can also express what the challenges are and this will help them to set goals and take action. I often make a list of what needs doing so that I don’t forget. The satisfaction that I get in crossing completed tasks off helps to keep me motivated. Similarly, when students experience success they will be more likely to continue. I then share tasks with my husband, which helps me to break tasks into smaller pieces. If students are working with others they too will need to practice how to negotiate sharing and delegating roles. They can also break a part larger task into small steps. Finally, I think about the consequences for not following through. Often, the thought of paying a late fee or having a frantic day will help me to complete tasks in a timely manner. Students may also have some motivation to complete tasks by merely considering the consequence of a low grade, further stress, or an adult’s consternation.

In a recent article from the Washington Post entitled “The Real Stuff of Schooling: How to Teach Students to Apply Knowledge”, author Valerie Straus contends that transfer of knowledge is the primary purpose of schooling. Knowledge in isolation serves no purpose unless students can apply the knowledge and skills they learn with us to other challenges inside and outside of school. The article illustrates a number of ways a learning could be transferable and also suggests a number of ways teachers might help students to apply the content of learning in other situations including maximizing the initial learning experience, activating prior knowledge, providing opportunities for deliberate practice, having students explain learnings in their own words, using the knowledge in real world situations, and making connections with the assistance of metaphors. I would add that we are not just asking students to transfer content knowledge to other arenas but also transferring the skill of getting those tasks done.

Using the guidelines from this article, teachers could help students to develop and transform executive functioning skills by doing the following:

1) Provide learning activities where students have to activate executive functioning skills. To tell students what they should be doing every minute of the class and then provide homework with explicit step-by-step directions, does not allow students opportunities to self-direct their academic endeavors or set them up to take charge of their professional life later. Rather, teachers could provide learning activities where students have some choice or have a task to accomplish but do not have proscribed steps to meet the goal.

2) Teachers could explicitly help students to build a tool kit to help them tackle assignments to promote taking responsibility and control. This may include having students explain their strategies for success aloud. This could entail the use of a planner with assistance in how to maximize effectiveness. Or it might include a routine for starting challenging assignments.

3) Then, for future assignments teachers could remind students how they completed assignments previously and discuss with them the effective strategies they used to organize their ideas, draft, and revise.

4) Like Strauss, Wilson utilizes metaphor to help students and educators better appreciate the role of executive functioning. She cites a musical conductor as illustrative of what executive functioning allows us to accomplish; for it is the conductor who selects the musical arrangement, interprets the piece, sets the tempo, and directs each group of musicians to contribute at the appropriate time. In understanding the aspects of executive functioning through metaphor students will have a better appreciation for how to hone this skill for their gain.

It may be easier as teachers for us to direct students at every point, as it is easier to do everything for 3 and 4 year olds then to help them direct themselves. There may be more spilled cereal or mismatched socks along the way but ultimately, we will see children and eventually adults with the ability to pick priorities, set goals, and follow through on a task across a wide range of environments armed with the confidence to give it a try and the resilience to know how to respond when it does not work the first time. After all, executive functioning like the building of any knowledge requires constant practice for successful application in new life and learning challenges.

Teachable Moments: Revisiting the Cliché

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My husband remembers a moment when his history teacher, who also coached hockey, overhead a boy ask his teammate, “Did your old lady pay for your ice time today?”

The boy replied, “No my mother did.” The history teacher came over to the boys, making a point to praise the one who had spoken respectfully of his mother. The teacher then paid for that boy’s ice time and my husband refers to the story more than 30 years later.

Teaching moments are those unplanned moments that adults seize, often capitalizing on student interest, to convey a spontaneous, lasting lesson to students.

Teachable moments are powerful as they have the potential to foster social responsibility, encourage inquiry and critical thinking regarding current issues, and support students’ social & emotional learning.

The notion of teachable moments have become cliché in education but that makes them no less poignant.

What learning stands out from your schooling?

I remember a moment when my high-school Latin teacher reproached a boy during class when he shared he would not be giving blood at the school blood drive. Tom Greaser was the captain of the basketball team and Mrs. Archibald pointedly asked him whether he planned to accept blood from a donor if he needed it. I think about that moment every time I give blood.

Many years later as a teacher, I once heard a student say in homeroom casually to a friend, “All poor people are lazy.” I challenged that thought and we had an eye-opening conversation, leaving me wanting to expand the dialogue. For my next class, I wrote the following three statements on the board and asked students to respond

All poor people are lazy.
If a poor person wanted to they could get of poverty.
If someone is poor, it is probably his or her fault.

The conversation that I had with those sixth graders for the next 45 minutes was not tied to the lesson I had planned or concretely connected to my curriculum at all. Yet, I could tell that my students’ ideas were changing about poverty. The vast difference in students’ perceptions of poverty provided an opportunity for students to help each other develop empathy. Students spoke to each other about people some of us all knew, including the janitor at the school who was clearly working hard. Some students raised questions about making judgments of children born into poverty, about mental illness including PTSD and how it would be hard to hold a job, and about the destructive cycle of drug addiction. I am confident that the class was an epiphany to those actively involved in the conversation.

How can teachers manufacture teachable moments? I have 5 suggestions

  • Allow for flexibility and digressions. I smile when students walk out of my class saying, “That was awesome. We really go her off track today.”
  • Listen to students’ side conversations and even ask a question or insert a comment that might challenge their ideas.
  • Answer students’ questions earnestly. Sometimes, as teachers we are so focused on teaching our intended lesson that we might miss the opportunity that students offer for the rich unprompted learning.
  • When planning a lesson think ahead about how you might connect content to the real world or current events. These connections crystalize important lasting learnings.
  • Finally, create time to connect with students outside of formal class time in a club, sport, or extra-curricular activity. Students will feel more comfortable leaning into those digressions if they feel you are approachable, someone who cares about them as a person.

Feel free to share other ways that you create the teachable moment for students in your classroom.

A Critique of Rubrics

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Before I start, I should come forward with an admission. I use rubrics. I like rubrics. However, I find rubrics are never as straightforward and effective to use as proponents claim. And so I do not rely on rubrics because I am not entirely convinced that rubrics do in fact provide the best feedback to improve students’ writing.

A rubric is a scoring tool that illustrates for students the criteria for measuring quality of a piece of work. For example, a compelling hook, evidence, and mechanics might constitute the important criteria in a piece of writing. A rubric also provides descriptions to distinguish degrees of quality for each criterion, from excellent to poor.

According to Andrade, rubrics reduce the amount of time teachers spend evaluating student work. I would argue that it takes a long time to develop a really strong rubric. And, I often spend a long time developing a rubric only to find that the rubric falls short targeting the common errors I actually find. Improving upon a rubric for a particular assignment may take years of using that rubric and making revisions.

Andrade, from Understanding Rubrics, contends that teachers ideally should use the following exact steps to incorporate rubrics.

  1. Look at models: Show students examples of good and not-so-good work. Identify the characteristics that make the good ones good and the bad ones bad.
  2. List criteria: Use the discussion of models to begin a list of what counts in quality work.
  3. Articulate gradations of quality: Describe the best and worst levels of quality, then fill in the middle levels based on your knowledge of common problems and the discussion of not-so-good work.
  4. Practice on models: Have students use the rubrics to evaluate the models you gave them in Step 1.
  5. Use self- and peer-assessment: Give students their task. As they work, stop them occasionally for self- and peer-assessment.
  6. Revise: Always give students time to revise their work based on the feedback they get in Step 5.
  7. Use teacher assessment: Use the same rubric students used to assess their work yourself.

Though the above process is ideal, the amount of time looking at models and co-constructing the rubric with students feels onerous.

Another strong argument for rubrics is that they make teachers’ expectations plain and provide clear evidence on how students would meet these expectations. I would argue that explicitly defining quality can also be a weakness. Especially, in a teacher-constructed rubric, students are not the judges of quality. They fail to see for themselves what makes a compelling piece of writing. Students may try to address the specific criteria cited in the rubric for quality and yet still manage to miss the larger picture of quality for a piece of work. And in the end, they depend on the teacher to be the thoughtful judge of quality. When teachers provide general comments students make decisions on how to make specific revisions.

So how do I balance using rubrics with these suggested shortcoming? I would use the following 5 guiding principles when incorporating rubrics

  • To save time, use the steps cited above by Andrade to co-construct the first rubric of the year with students and then use teacher-generated rubrics.
  • For teacher-generated rubrics borrow elements of existing rubrics rather than create your own from scratch. The Buck Institute and Understanding Rubrics are two great places to start for models.
  • Have students fill out the rubric when they turn in a draft and final draft so that students can self-evaluate their work.
  • In order to improve students writing, in addition to using rubrics continue to use lengthier comments and student conferencing, along with sharing common errors with the class.
  • Use student centered language for the criteria of the rubric and quality measures that includes “Yes”, “Yes but”, “No but”, and “No”
    Below is an example adapted from Understanding RubricsScreen Shot 2015-03-01 at 12.07.01 PM
    How do you use rubrics effectively?

Know Days: One School’s Answer to a Ruthless Winter

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It is mid-February; winter is hardly over and we have had nearly two weeks of snow days or almost 80 lost instructional hours. Our elementary school, located one hour north of Boston is hardly alone. Schools all over the Northeast now face the daunting challenge of how to regain lost instructional hours to sledding and how to cover their intended course material in the time remaining until the end of June. From earlier starts to later dismissals, to dropping scheduled faculty professional development days or reinstating school on minor holidays, all options are on the table.

For now, the Assistant Head of our school has announced to our faculty and parents that in the future the school may call a “Know Day” on a snow day. Students will realize that on Know Days, they have some activities to do at home. Lower Schoolers (Grades PreK-3) will have Blizzard Bags they can tap into on those days; Middle Schoolers (Grades 4-5) will have prepared packets and teachers will email parents with any necessary explanation; Upper Schoolers (Grades 6-8) will know to check their school email accounts after 11a.m. for assignments, while Upper School teachers will be available by email in the afternoon for any questions.

Thus, our school navigates a balance between the magic of snow days and the reality of lost instructional time. Our Assistant Head of school explains, “We know that building snow forts and snowmen, learning how to steer a sled, whipping up hot chocolate for pals, or shoveling out an injured neighbor all have genuine value in life. But as professionals, we recognize that the magic may have a tipping point. So we are trying to strike an easy balance between honoring the magic and honoring the work that needs to get done. Not every snow day will be a Know Day, but in winters such as this one, there may be a few.” Teachers will  need to develop new blended learning strategies. What might those look like?

  • Could students post a reflection on a reading assignment to an online discussion board?
  • Work on an independent project explained in a Webinar?
  • Reinforce a concept by playing a teacher previewed online math or literacy game?
  • Collaborate on an assignment through Skype, Facetime, by email, or on a social media site?
  • Listen to a relevant lecture or podcast?
  • Read a blog or article when a teacher sends a link?
  • Collaborate using a Google Doc or a class Wiki?
  • Make an addition to an online portfolio that students are already working on in class?
  • Might teachers develop webpages for older grades that house resources, assignments, and links for students so that they get in the habit of checking this page regardless of the weather?
  • Might teachers use Skype for personal video conferencing to give feedback on writing?

A more sustainable solution may be facing the reality that extreme weather is in our future to stay. Schools may need to build a calendar that takes into account more snow days by reducing other vacations at the start of the year. And in the same way that teachers prepare substitute plans, schools may want to look at how distance learning currently provides authentic instruction and consider how to incorporate those elements into current brick-and-mortar curriculum. Not only will students develop their facility for online platforms and tools, they will maintain a little of the structure of learning lost by these unanticipated disruptions to learning.

What does your school do in the face of a ruthless winter to keep students on target to meet the year’s learning goals?

Holding Students’ Interest Through Music

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According to author, Annie Murphy Paul, interest powers up learning. She explains,
“When we’re interested in what we’re learning, we pay closer attention; we process the information more efficiently; we employ more effective learning strategies, such as engaging in critical thinking, making connections between old and new knowledge, and attending to deep structure instead of surface features. When we’re interested in a task, we work harder and persist longer, bringing more of our self-regulatory skills into play.”

Paul defines interest as seizing attention and providing stimulation but she explains that holding interest requires deeper meaning and purpose.

To apply this idea to the classroom, let’s look at the drama Streetcar Named Desire. One way to keep their interest for Scene 7 is to build upon students’ personal music knowledge and interest. When students discuss their proposed musical preference for the scene with Williams’ actual choice, they appreciate the intricacies of the literary meaning in light of their own passion and previous knowledge. Thus, they build a deeper more personal appreciation for the text.

Here is the entire lesson:
Essential Questions: How does an author create meaning in a work of literature?

Interdisciplinary Connection: Music-
How might music be a literary device ie… convey symbolism, develop a character, or enrich a theme?

Objectives: Students will be able to…
Identify literary devices of symbolism (Blanches’s constant bathing & a paper moon) and dramatic irony (Blanche’s impending ruin)

Describe the juxtaposition of Blanche’s merry rendition of ““It’s Only a Paper Moon” with Stanley’s malicious revelations about her character.

Infer why Williams chose the song “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.

Compare the lyrics of the song with Blanche’s situation

Connect a new song with the scene and discuss a new interpretation.

Class Activities:
1) Listen to the song:

It’s Only A Paper Moon
It is only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me

Yes, it’s only a canvas sky
Hangin’ over a muslin tree
But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me

Without your love
It’s a honky tonk parade
Without your love
It’s a melody played in a penny arcade

It’s a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me

Without your love
It’s a honky tonk parade
Without your love
It’s a melody played in a penny arcade

It’s a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be

But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me

2. Look at the lyrics together and ask students how is ““It’s Only a Paper Moon” an appropriate song for this scene?

What is Blanche’s act she is playing with Mitch and what is the reality?

How is this song an example of dramatic irony?

3. Is there another song that might also be appropriate? What would that song be for you?

4. Have students share their song choice and discuss how it is appropriate for the scene or how it might change the scene.

Questions and comments during discussion
Presentation of song and connection to the character, themes, and symbolism of the text.

How do you “catch” and “hold” students’ interest? Do you incorporate music into other disciplines to stimulate and maintain interest?

Breughel’s Icarus: An Interdisciplinary Approach

There are a number of benefits to blurring the arbitrary distinctions among disciplines. First, when teachers draw upon a broad array of frameworks they honor the multiple forms of intelligences students bring to the classroom, enhancing student engagement and learning. Such learning also imparts a range of skills such as the capacity to build foundational knowledge, connect ideas, and embrace complexity. Finally, such lessons reflect real life, which is multifaceted and not compartmentalized by tidy subject-matter packages.

Consider the following lesson on Icarus. You might find the content of this lesson in an art or English class, perhaps even a history or Latin class.
Breughel’s Icarus

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Essential Questions
Why do classical myths inspire artists through the ages?
How do artists reinvent classical myth for their own purposes?

Interdisciplinary Connection: Art
How might understanding the classical myths portrayed in art foster greater appreciation for both the art and classical myths?

Objectives: Students will be able to…
describe the moment in the myth portrayed by a particular painting.
describe why they think the artist chose this particular moment.
interpret the artist’s message of the myth of Icarus.
compare that message with the message in the original myth
compare the portrayal of Icarus in other pieces of art
create their own reinvention of a moment in myth and articulate their particular message as an artist.
Class Activities

  • Read the myth of Icarus (D’aulaires) – What is the message of the myth? Do you agree with this message? What is Breughel’s message and how is it different from the original myth?
  •  Look at 3 other versions of the myth of Icarus. What is the moment of the myth portrayed and why do you think the artist picked that particular moment instead of another? What is this artist’s message and how is it different from Breughel’s message? Do you agree with this message or with Breughel’s message and why?

    Pick one question for written self-reflection.

  • Share writings w/ class
  • Jigsaw Activity: Look at other artistic renditions of myths we know in art. Each group is given 3 paintings on a myth we have read such as Daphne & Apollo, Prometheus, Pandora etc… Discuss the paintings in the group and then present to another small group focusing on the artists’ choice of moment & message, as well as your feelings about each interpretation.
  • Work on your own personal reinvention of a myth in art, poetry, song etc…

Questions and comments during discussion
Presentation of group paintings in art to the small group
Reinvention of myth in the form of artwork, poem, song, etc..

How do you build interdisciplinary connections in the classroom?



Pieter Breughel the Elder 1158
Gabriel Picart 2004
Herber James Draper 1898
Henri Matisse 1946
Jacob Peter Gowy 1636
Anthony Van Dyck 1620
Charles Paul Landon 1799

Foreign Language Writing Activity: Students Use Vocabulary in Context

A good example of learning in context

World Language Classroom

Foreign Language  Writing Activity: Students Use Vocabulary in ContextThe importance of teaching and learning vocabulary in context is spreading.  Gone (hopefully) are the days of teaching words in isolation and out of context.  We need to keep this in mind as well when students write.  I am guilty of asking students to “write each vocabulary word in a sentence” when the sentences are in isolation and don’t follow any sort of logic or context.  When would anyone need to write like this?  The answer is never, or only in a foreign language class.  So, I needed to change my writing prompts to make sure that students are writing with a context.  This tends to be a bit more manageable with students that have a higher proficiency, but I wanted to make sure that I was instilling the concept and skill of writing in context with my younger (lower proficiency) students early on so that this would become the…

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Building a Case for Teaching in Context

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Try remembering a password that has no meaning to you.
Try recalling directions without referring to any landmarks.
Try holding onto what a word means in isolation.
Try retaining a single phone number just by memorizing the digits.
Try memorizing the chorus to a new song by reading the lyrics.

If as adults we struggle to remember even the shortest bits of information, how can we expect our students to digest, larger complicated ideas such as the structure of language by rote?

Now try remembering a password that that has personal meaning to you.

Or recall directions by visualizing a map in your mind filled with specific buildings and distinct natural forms.

Look at the numbers of the phone number as a whole; note a pattern; now try to memorize them.

Learn the chorus to the song by singing it and recognizing that the chords are just like another song you know. It’s easier isn’t it? Makes more sense.

The following are a few suggestions to provide context for grammar by either building that understanding on a previous learning, tying that bit of information to something real, or making a connection to something personally relevant.

I like to keep in mind the reason for teaching specific content, as this will inform the kind of understanding students should possess and the kind of learning activity appropriate to master it.
For example, students need to understand punctuation to the following ends:

  • A student’s knowledge or lack thereof of grammar should not get in the way of their ability to write sentences that vary in length and structure. Students who do not know how to properly use commas and semi-colons tend to write the same kind of sentences; their writing style and form is diminished by this lack of knowledge.
  • Grammar should not hinder understanding on the part of the reader or even distract the reader from the reading experience.

Encourage students to approach writing holistically, rather than as a rigid list of rules. This may negate feelings associated with making mistakes and encourage students to experiment with imagery, form, and meaning.

Use Real Literary Texts
Ask students to annotate texts regarding language structure. For example, note how an author uses a minor sentence such as – “How pretty!” Look how an author incorporates a sentence splice or does not start a new paragraph when a new character speaks. What effect does it have on the text?

If you want to focus on punctuation rules, perhaps hand students a punctuation free passage from a classic text and allow students to feel the natural pauses. Where would they punctuate the text and where does it vary from the author’s choices? Is there more than one way to use punctuation?

‘Do’ the Skill: “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” -John Dewey

Use a mini-lesson to highlight some general rules and then give students an activity that requires that they apply those rules immediately. Give them a handout for their reference. For example, teach students basic rules on how to use quotation marks and then have them write a story only using dialogue. They will have to figure out what knowledge they need in order to complete the task. They will see where their knowledge is fragile. They will ask questions when it does not make sense or ‘look right’ to them.

Make it Personal
In speaking with a 6th grades English teacher at our school, she notes that the biggest impact on students’ grammar is in just allowing students to write about what they care about. When students know their topic well and care about the work then they no longer write to please a teacher; as a result, their writing is clearer and cleaner.

Use Student Writing
After looking at a batch of student papers, cull for common errors. In a mini-lesson, teach those that appear most frequent. Students can read others’ writing with an editorial eye, perhaps even referring to a growing class list of common errors. Give students post-it notes to attach to their peers’ piece with a correction, a comment, and a question. Be sure they sign each comment. Often, I do not find that students make great editorial decisions for their peers but I do think that the process of reading what their peers are writing helps students to appreciate what they are capable of writing.

The more students use grammar in context (and in different contexts), the more likely students will see themselves as writers, play with language, and make informed choices about how and when to incorporate these teachings into their own writing.

Do you teach grammar in context? How?

The Final Five: Students Have the Last Word

5 minutes before the end of the class, you realize that time is slipping by and quickly rush to both summarize the lesson and explain the homework assignment. A single student shifts in his chair; others look at the clock. Almost simultaneously, students shuffle papers and pack up, making it difficult for anyone to hear your final comments. As students make haste, you utter one last plea to clean up and push in chairs. Students rush out the door, leaving you to move chairs, pick up paper, and think about the upcoming due date you forgot to remind students to note down.

The closing of a lesson is an important opportunity for the learner to determine sense and meaning. Research suggests that to make something stand out in a person’s mind, present the information either at the beginning or the end of a lesson rather than letting the information get lost in the middle.

What can teachers do in the last 5-8 minutes of class to maximize a lesson? Give students “the last word” by providing them with one last opportunity to reinforce, summarize, connect, internalize, or reflect on the lessons of the day.

The following are a number of suggestions:

Post-it: Have students leave a final thought about what they know on the white board. Students “sign” their work or statements, allowing the teacher to see at a glance misconceptions and new learning. Students who come into the classroom, either the next day or the next period can read students’ final thoughts.

Social Media
: Have students write a tweet summing up the day’s class or create a Facebook post to share with “friends” information about the class.

Test Knowledge with a Game (Here are four of my favorites)
Around the World: Have a student stand behind a student. Ask a question about the lesson. The student to raise their hand and answer the question correctly first will move on to stand behind the next student. If a student is able to move around the room, answering every question correctly first, then that student has successfully gone “around the world”.

Board Races: Have students line up in two teams at the board. Give the first pair of students a question. Both students write the answer to the question as quickly as they can. Award a point to the team with the first correct answer. The pair moves to the back of the line.

You Are Stuck Until… Have students line up at the door at the last few minutes of class. Individually ask students a question about the day’s lesson as they leave. Students with the incorrect answer have to return to the end of the line. Students with the correct answer may leave.

Baseball: Draw a picture of a baseball field on the board and prepare markers (pieces of paper with tape on them) to mark the bases. Divide the class into two groups. Each team then chooses the lineup. Flip a coin to see which team is “up to bat” first. The teacher is the pitcher for both teams. The teacher then “pitches” a question to a student. If the student answers the question correctly, the student moves to first base, and the teacher marks this move on the board. If the student cannot answer the question, it is counted as a strike out. After three outs, the other team comes up to bat. The number of innings played is decided beforehand. The teacher can assign each question of “hit” value by categorizing questions by level of difficulty and then deciding which questions count as singles, doubles, triples, and homers.

It is also important for students to think about their learning in context to what they already know. For instance, students may write or discuss as a class or in pairs

The Three Ws

What did we learn today ?

So What? (relevancy, importance, usefulness)

Now What? (how does this fit into what we are learning, does it affect our thinking, can we predict where we are going)

And finally, by providing students with the opportunity to reflect on the lesson’s learning objectives, not only do students crystallize understanding, but you receive timely feedback on the lesson’s effectiveness, too. The following is one example:

Students summarize the lesson in pairs by completing the following sentences:  We Started the lesson…., the Topic was……, Our Opportunities for practice were…., the Purpose of the lesson was…

Are there other ways that you end a class effectively?