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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Plausibly Preposterous: Mixing Vocabulary and Grammar (Part II)

In Part I, I discussed my writing lesson using the vocabulary words plausible and preposterous, with the addition of the word there, using a strategy from Gretchen Bernabei. I now pick up with a revising strategy from Bernabei called Paragraph Overhaul. 


My students have done a great deal of writing this year, but we have not moved on to editing and revising until now. While attending the TexTESOL conference in San Marcos this month, Gretchen Bernabei discussed a technique she calls Paragraph Overhaul, and I brought this back to my classroom to use with my students. 

I had my students the steps in their composition books. We worked on each step as we went through the process. I modeled. They worked with me. I also had conversations with toys, but that's a bit farther along in the reflection. 

Paragraph Overhaul

1. Count how many sentences you wrote (this means a beginning capital letter to an end punctuation mark). Write this number at the top of your paragraph. 

This step made many of my students aware that they are not using end punctuation anywhere in their writing. I have a dyslexic student who can write clear thoughts, but he was surprised to discover that he had written one gigantic run-on sentence. As we continued through the writing workshop, I had to help break his writing into chunks for him to work with. I saw similar issues with some of my ESL students. 

2. On a new page, write your sentences in list form. 

Although I wrote my own paragraph for my students, I had not made enough mistakes to effectively model the paragraph overhaul process. I used a student's writing from different class periods throughout the day. 

Student Example

3. Put your sentences through the WRINGER.

This was another opportunity to introduce a vocabulary word. Although a few students thought this word was "that thing your phone does," most were able to define it when I made physical gestures and describes what I would do to a wet towel. My kids knew this word, but they had not seen it in writing to know that it was spelled differently than "that thing your phone does."

One thing I am not afraid to do in my classroom is embarrass myself. It is not easy to teach grammar. Grammar tends to be boring and dry. Over the past 11 1/2 years, I have embraced my nerdiness and let it shine in my classroom, and it seems to work. Bernabei shared her way of teaching this process, but I had to put my own spin on it. 

3a. Pssst! Test: Does it make a statement?

I don't even know how to explain this and have it make sense, so I am going to share a page from Bernabei's book:

Now, saying Pssst! in a room full of eighth graders sounds like another word that I do not like them using in my classroom. So, of course, I ran with it and made lots of corny jokes to sucker them into this part of the lesson. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do!  

I also added my own spin to this. I really wanted my students to understand that this "What?" voice is meant to annoy them and get them thinking. So I brought a prop:

Who is more annoying than Donkey?

As I modeled the Pssst! Test, I was having conversations with Donkey. Yes, my students told me that I am weird and that I have lost cool points (but earned crazy points), but within a few minutes, they were following my lead. 

Me: Pssst! Donkey!
(wait a moment)
Me (looking at class): Donkey said, "What?"
(read sentence, then listen again)
Me: Donkey says that is not a sentence, and he is not being nice about it.

This part was a struggle for them when they did it on their own. I had them drawing faces on their fingers and Pssst!ing their classmates to help, but because their everyday speech is grammatically flawed, they were not picking up on some of their fragments and run-ons. Most of my students did eventually pick up on their mistakes and make corrections.

3b. Verb Check

Although this step is meant for sentence fragments, I had my students to verb checks on every sentence they wrote. Yes, I teach eighth graders who are clueless about verbs. So I took advantage of the opportunity. I was also able to use this method with a student from another English class who was stuck on a subject and predicate assignment. It's so simple, I wish I had thought of it. 

To prove you have a verb, find the word in the sentence that you think is a verb, and plug it into each of the following blanks:

I __________. You __________. He __________. 

If your word makes sense in any of those, you have found your verb. We did discover that some adverbs also made sense, but if the students had adverbs, they usually had verbs. 

3c. How many? If there is more than one sentence, how are they joined?

To join sentences legally, use one of the following:

. (period); (semicolon), conjunction 

This WRINGER sample is from an ELL. She struggles with
using correct verb tenses. We focused heavily on this,
and she made significant progress.

I modeled every step of this. I had kids making their own corrections as we modeled. I had some who took three days to figure it out ("I don't get it. What's wrong with 'take me a bath'?"). Regardless of how much (or little) they ended up understanding, there were huge improvements in their writing. 

The whole lesson was more fun than I expected, and I enjoyed every bit of frustration my students endured. I told them that frustration means they are thinking, and we need to push through that frustration instead of giving up. For a first attempt on my part, I think this went quite well.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Plausibly Preposterous: Mixing Vocabulary and Grammar (Part I)

Before I left for my trip to San Marcos last week, my students were reading an article about the Loch Ness monster in Scope magazine. In our reading, we ran across the words preposterous and plausible, and I decided to do some more work with them because the kids seemed to enjoy speaking with them. 

Monday, we started with a modified vocabulary routine. I put both words together since we discussed them a bit last week. I gave them pictures to identify as preposterous or plausible, including pictures of a much younger me (sometimes you just have to go there to keep them engaged). 

Now that my classes are comfortable with the Texas Literacy Initiative vocabulary routine, and because I am an ESL teacher, it was time to add another component: writing. Our school theory is that all students are English language learners, and as such, they need to listen, speak, read, and write every day. The kids have been doing a great job using the words in social conversations both in and out of my classroom, but I wanted to make sure they could use preposterous and plausible academically

Last weekend, I was in San Marcos for the TexTESOL conference. I learned some incredible things in my day and a half (I was also presenting, so I did not get to attend as many sessions as I wanted). One of the presenters, Colin Ward, introduced me to the website Just the Word. The site allows you to type in a word, and it returns common uses of the word. This is a benefit for students who are encountering new words that they may not be familiar enough with to use correctly in their writing. Providing students will phrases instead of single vocabulary words helps them use the words more effectively. 

Preposterous did not return any common phrases, so I gave my students two of my own: "That's preposterous", and "That idea is preposterous." Plausible returned six phrases, four of which I gave to my students for their use. Even though I provided my classes with these options, only a few students used them in their assignments. Most were able to effectively use the words on their own. 

I also had the honor of seeing Gretchen Bernabei at the conference last weekend. Bernabei presented information from her upcoming book due out in January. I took one many of her ideas and added to the writing lesson I was putting together for this week.  

The first idea I incorporated into my writing lesson was a simple trick (at least I think they are) to use with their, there, and they're. I chose to start with there:

Bernabei talked about having the kids prove that they are using the correct form of there/their/they're. I am constantly on my students about providing text evidence (proof) with our reading assignments, so adding this component to their writing was a natural fit. 

For there, the students use (here) as the proof piece. I initially gave this instruction but after a day, I realized that my kids were not actually checking anything. I added a piece to make sure that they were actually thinking through the method. In addition to (here), my students had to define the here (Bernabei asked us to play with her methods and see what works for us, so I do not feel guilty for the modification). For example:
  • There they are. 
  • Where are they?
  • Here. 
  • Here where?
  • Here in the school/cafeteria/classroom/etc. 

Bernabei also said that if her students used the word correctly one time, they earn one grade. If they use it five times, they earn two grades. I decided to follow her lead, and I have to say it was a fantastic idea. I do not give extra credit, so most kids took advantage of this "easy" option for earning an extra 100. 

Here is what the some of the first drafts ended up looking like:

We followed all of this up with an editing/revising activity. Stay tuned for Plausibly Preposterous: Mixing Vocabulary and Grammar (Part II). 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Library Speed Dating

Sixth Period
For today's library lesson, my kids are speed dating with books. I did not know what to expect with this particular lesson, and my students are not really fans of library day. But this is proving to be pretty interesting. 

Our school librarian got the idea from a blog post she ran across. Mrs. Reader Pants explains in detail how to set up the "dating," and I will not take away from her by explaining that here. 

During the first round of my first class, most kids were engaged at truly looking at the book covers. I did hear one boy say, "I want the thinnest book possible." I asked if that was representative of how he chooses the girls he likes. Another said it didn't matter what he looked at; he was not going to check out a book anyway. 

By the end of the first round, however, five students had found a book that they wanted to check out. This surprised me. I expected one at the most. As we continued rotating, a few kids changed their minds and traded out their original choices.

As we approached the last round, one girl was disappointed that they could not continue rotating through the genres. To appease her, with our last few minutes, the kids were allowed to peruse any table they wished, as well as browse through the rest of the library itself. 
First Period

Third Period
Fourth Period (with model poses)

Now not every class was thoroughly engaged. I have two truly awesome classes and two that are a bit rougher. There is a clear line between readers and non-readers between class periods. But they still participate din the activity, even if they did not check out books at the end of the class. 

Most of the students in each class did end up checking out at least one book, and that does not happen very often. This included kids I did not expect. When I checked with students after each class, they said they really enjoyed the activity. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Vocabulary Enhancement

As we continue our journey of vocabulary development, I am taking some time in class to have kids review the vocabulary we have focused on for the first half of the semester. 
We are using a vocabulary enhancement technique presented by my district ELL representative. She presents this activity all over the state and has seen teachers have much success with it. My students keep asking what this activity is called, but I do not have a specific name for it. We simply call it a vocabulary enhancer

Students worked in pairs. Each pair received a word that we have covered explicitly so far this year. Their job was to turn the word itself into a picture that represents its meaning. I showed them (at a student's insight) how the word google is turned into pictures for the Google logo. I did have to clarify that what they are doing is a bit different: we are not creating theme pictures like the logo does, but the conversation itself did help my students understand what I was expecting from them. 

I began by showing them my own creation for the word setting and having them analyze how I had incorporated time and setting into the word itself:

Then I handed each group an index card with one of our words on it. Despite the whining and complaining, I would not allow them to trade their words. I wanted them to think. They were allowed to use technology to help come up with meanings and picture ideas. 

The following video contains the finished products, and I will be sharing this at the TexTESOL conference in San Marcos this weekend: