Category Archives: Language Arts

Guernica

Note: As I was looking up resources for this post, I realized that yesterday, the day that I introduced Guernica to my current 4th graders, was the 80th anniversary of its bombing. I’m sure I probably knew that somewhere in my subconscious, but it still sent a chill down my spine when I saw the date.

Every year my 4th grade gifted students study masterpieces of all types – literary, mathematical, and artistic.  “Guernica,” by Picasso is one of the artistic masterpieces that we examine as we discuss the empathy that the visual arts often reflect on the part of the artist.  It is a difficult piece to confront, particularly once you know the history behind it, but I think that it is important to study for many reasons.  Picasso’s internal struggle as a man who disdained using art for political reasons but also a man who felt compelled to convey his emotions with every brushstroke make this painting into an engaging topic of conversation with my students.

Gavin Than recently created another one of his fabulous Zen Pencils comics dedicated to Picasso’s “Guernica,” illustrating a famous quote from Picasso about the piece.  It would be a great way to start a debate in your classroom about whether or not the students agree with Picasso’s stance.  Another philosophical discussion that stems from the painting is the love/hate relationship we have with technology, as symbolized by the light bulb in the center of the painting.  The same technology that allows many people from all over the world travel to see this work of art by air also doomed the Spanish town to being blanket-bombed by the Germans.

For more on teaching with Guernica, here is a Pulitzer Center lesson on interpreting global issues through the lens of the painting.

Older students might also want to take a look at this video, which gives a 3d perspective of the painting.

And, here is a current event news article from Newsela that makes the connection between Guernica and recent tragedies in Syria. (You must log in to view this – registration is free.)

You might also want to try one of these lessons from Read, Write, Think, which also includes links to other Guernica-related sites.

guernica
image from Manuel Galrinho on Flickr

Refute It

One of the reasons I keep a blog is because I have a horrible memory.  It’s nice to go back in time every once in awhile and look at the posts I wrote so I can rediscover some great resources.  Luke Neff’s Writing Prompts site is one of those tools.  I originally mentioned the site in 2011.  Neff takes interesting images or quotes, and creates unusual, thought-provoking prompts for older students.  I revisited the site yesterday, and found a prompt that really resonated.  I want so much for my students to question and to use critical thinking skills.  This prompt may activate some lively discussion in my class – which is what I am aiming for!

writingprompts
image from: http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/image/144026412485

For my list of my favorite online writing tools in 2011 (before Google Docs existed!), click here.

 

5 Educational Mother’s Day Activities

I know that the readers of this blog live in many countries, so I try to write posts that might be applicable no matter where you are.  I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to learn that many nations celebrate Mother’s Day in May, as does the United States. Here are some lesson ideas to consider that will simultaneously honor mothers as students learn something new.

  • GT Frames for Mothers (original idea from @jtrayers)
  • She Wears Many Hats (advanced students can use multiple meanings and think metaphorically)
  • Mother’s Day Trip (I am considering doing this with my 1st graders, who just researched different countries.  It would be funny to make the video sound like the mom just won a roundtrip vacation to the country on a game show or in a sweepstakes!)
  • Mother’s Day Shopping Spree  – Speaking of winning things, a fun math/writing lesson could be to have students “shop” for their mothers online with a budget. They would have to make sure they stay within budget as well as justify each gift they would purchase.  I would use one store site (such as Target.com) that offers many types of items, or curate some ahead of time for younger students.  Mothers may enjoy seeing what their children would buy for them if money were no (or, almost no) object!
  • Paper Circuit Greeting Cards (more examples here)
wearsmanyhats
My mom wears a “magician hat for when she magicly gets websites working again after I acedentely hit a button.” image from “She Wears Many Hats

It’s a Zoo Out There – #TCEA17

Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference 😉  In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.

“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas.  They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years.  The students research animals, draw pictures,  and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned.  Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it.  One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas.  No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.

Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation.  The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.

Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!

hippo-307015_960_720
image from: Pixabay 

Formative Assessment with Music Lyrics

Even though I really enjoy hearing the conversations that go on when my students do a Hexagonal Learning activity, my students will tell you that the playlist assessment is actually their favorite when it comes to demonstrating their understanding of a novel.  According to them, they enjoy being able to work independently on this assignment, and to really “dig deep” (their words) into the meaning of lyrics as well as the novels we are analyzing.  

Here’s how our playlist assignments work:  I give the students 5 songs to listen to, in addition to the lyrics from each of the songs.  The students are told to choose one song that they think represents the book the best – in other words, if the book were turned into a movie, this song would be a great theme song.  Then they must justify their answers using at least three different lyrics with at least three different examples from the book.  

A couple of notes: 1.) I like to give students choice, so the first couple of years I did this activity, I asked them to bring in their own ideas for songs.  They never did.  I still offer the option to request a song be added, but the students rarely suggest one.  They seem happier with the ones I recommend.  2.) If you choose to do this activity, you will need to “vet” the best way for the students to access the songs.  Podsnack is a nice site for creating playlists, but won’t play when my students log in.  YouTube lyrics videos work for us, using SafeShare, as long as I have approved the videos beforehand.  Another option is to create a station where students can listen to the songs downloaded on an iPad or iPod.

I’ve done this activity with groups of different sizes, and the silence is eerie when everyone puts  on their headphones and get started.  The students are intensely focused on the assignment.  Some take notes on scratch paper before choosing a song.  Others page through their novels as they listen.  I almost feel useless as the students work because they are so incredibly engaged that there is no need for redirection.  Instead, I periodically give them feedback in Google Classroom to encourage them or remark on their interesting ideas.

My 4th graders do this activity with Tuck Everlasting.  My 5th graders do it with The Giver.  I asked my 5th graders this time if I could share a couple of their responses with you, and they agreed.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-2-52-48-pm

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-2-51-44-pm

If you are interested in using The Giver Playlist Assignment, here is a link to make a copy.  Within that document is a link to the Exemplars that I used with my students to show them the different levels of responses.

I should probably warn you that, once the students do this assignment, they may request to listen to the music while doing other assignments as well.  Some of them get very attached to the songs!

Formative Assessment with Hexagonal Learning

Even though I’ve already mentioned Hexagonal Learning a couple of other times on this blog, it definitely bears repeating.  If you want to listen to your students having rich conversations about a topic and to discover how well they understand something they have read or that you have taught, this activity will deliver.  And, although I can’t make any guarantees, I have always seen complete engagement with Hexagonal Learning – even from introverts and students who have attention difficulties.

You can find details in last year’s post (linked above).  I just completed another round of Hexagonal Learning for Tuck Everlasting with a new class, and was once again blown away by the intensity of the discussions and deliberate care that went into each group’s connections.  My 5th graders, who were last year’s Tuck Everlasting class, also just completed the same assignment with hexagons from The Giver.

Of course, Hexagonal Learning can be used in ways other than analyzing literature.  Russel Tarr has a great post on how he used this idea in history class.  Tarr also gives a link to a post by John Mitchell on Visual Hexagons, which is an interesting twist I would like to try!

tuckhexagons
One group’s interpretation of how to connect the themes, symbols, and characters from Tuck Everlasting

Literature Quote Bingo

The New York Times has many lesson plans and other resources for educators that can help with the integration of current events. One portion of the site that you may not know about is the page that offers, “Over 50 Reusable Activity Sheets to Teach any Day’s Times.” With downloadable PDF’s of graphic organizers, games, discussion starters, and other lesson ideas, this page should be bookmarked on the computer of any upper elementary – secondary educator.  One of my recent discoveries was the, “Literature Quote Bingo” PDF, (which just happens to include one of my most favorite Harry Potter quotes of all time).  The students must match famous quotes to news stories, which is a great way to demonstrate understanding of the quotes and make connections to real world events. This is an open-ended activity that could be used with any selection of quotes.  If your students enjoy quotes as much as mine do, then they will find it engaging and you will get some valuable insight into their perspectives.

choices.png