Friday, March 29, 2013

Common Core Vocabulary

I am officially on Spring Break. Holla! We have today off and all of next week, not going back until April 8. Even though I brought home a tote full of papers to grade next week, I would much rather grade during daylight hours at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble than at home at night or trying to squeeze it in during prep. So I won't complain too much.

Today also actually FELT like spring with sun and temps nearing 60. I got a pedicure this morning and now my tootsies are a pretty shade of pink. I also did some spring shopping with my birthday gift cards and played with Roxie outside. A pretty good first day off.

We did find out this week that my father-in-law will have to have brain surgery on April 9 to remove two masses on his brain and are currently trying to figure out how we will go up to be with him (4 hours away) on surgery day with our super hyper, anxious dog that doesn't like car rides or strangers (she'd have to stay with my parents). So send good thoughts to us and our family if you could, please, for all of this!

Anyways, Common Core is on my mind because on our SIP day yesterday, the CC committee that I'm on met and we spent most of our time discussing vocabulary. I thought I would briefly explain the CC vocabulary stuff, post some resources or ideas I have found through this committee, and then see if anyone else has some good ideas to share!

Basically, there are three tiers of vocabulary in Common Core.

Tier 1 are words that show up in common conversation and vocabulary, like dog or bike or run. These don't really need much instruction (at the HS level, I have to do zero with tier 1 words).

Tier 2 words are high-frequency words that mature language users need to know. At a workshop I attended, the speaker described these as being "cross-curricular" words. English teachers should NOT be the only ones teaching tier 2 words. They may take on different meanings in different subject areas, so individual teachers should teach the meaning that relates to their subject area.
For example: "equality" means one thing in a history classroom and a different thing in a math class. That is a fairly simple example and they get more complex as the grade level goes up, but you get the idea.

Tier 3 words are content-specific vocab. So as an English teacher, I only teach those words that pertain to my subject area.
Examples: tragic hero, alliteration, hyperbole, etc.
I have heard numerous times that we should just give these definitions to students when we are teaching them. Each teacher would be responsible for teaching words just pertaining to their area.

I found a really good website (well it's really a blog) called Reading Sage  that has an excellent list of sample tier 2 words, definitions of each of the tiers, and a bunch of vocab. activities you can do with different tiered words for varying educational levels. If you scroll down the page, there are even links to other CCSS websites. This is probably the best vocab. resource I have found thus far in my Internet searching.

Basically, vocab. should not just be taught out of a vocab. workbook series anymore. We are getting rid of ours starting next year. It isn't effective to have students memorize 12 words for the quiz and then promptly forget them.

The workshop I attended also said students can only learn 3-4 new vocab. words (and learn them meaning understand them enough to incorporate them in their own vocabulary) per week, and that includes ALL the new words they are learning from ALL subjects, not just English. Yikes! No wonder they have a hard time on vocab. quizzes. After a new word is learned, it was suggested you build a word wall in your classroom so those words are always visible and accessible to students. I like this idea and will probably try it out next year.

The best way to combat the CC vocab. is to take it on as a whole school, at least in my very humble opinion. Our principal wanted us to focus on school-wide vocab. even this year, so we have tried something that works out pretty well if anyone wants to suggest it at their school. The English Dept. kind of spear-headed this and everyone else jumped on board.

My principal printed up a list of 100 words HS students should know (I think she got it through the SAT page). You could obviously adapt this to lower grade levels too (next year, we will probably do this with tier 2 CC words).

Every Friday is Vocab. Fun Friday. There is a list of all 100 words plus definitions in the mail room and every Friday morning, each teacher gets a sticky name tag in his/her mailbox. Each week you choose a new word and write either just the word or the word + definition on your name tag and wear it all day.

The idea is to get kids asking and thinking about the words. I know I have done, as well as some other teachers, an extra credit opportunity where I let students get 10 words from 10 teachers that day, write down the definition and make up a sentence using that word and they get a couple extra points. I know some teachers (and I have tried this too, though none of my students did it) tell their students they will get an extra point if they correctly use one of those vocab. words in another class and have the teacher sign-off that they used it correctly.

Our principal also had a huge spinning wheel made up with a bunch of the vocab. words on it. At lunch, she will occasionally (maybe once every other week) stand in the hall with the big wheel and let students spin it at lunch. If they can provide the definition of the word it lands on, they get a prize (typically a huge candy bar). She then asks the which teacher taught them that word and the teacher ALSO gets a prize (I think their prize is a gift card to a local shop). It has worked well so far! 

Just a couple ideas to get you thinking about the CC vocab. coming down the chute. Through all my work with CC thus far, I have found that it isn't drastically different from what we do now. We are teaching pretty much the same stuff, but the WAY in which we teach it might change slightly. I know I am already doing a lot of things CC has us do, like writing argumentatively, doing close readings, providing textual evidence, etc. So it isn't as scary as it might initially seem.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Taking your school newspaper online

Well look at that! We got a snow day today. We probably got about 7" total yesterday, but not all of it stuck to the ground. However, all the rural districts canceled today, which I am thankful for because driving country roads in those conditions is Not. Fun.

As much as I loved the surprise day off, this is NOT what spring should look like:
view from my front window

So while I am sitting at home today, I thought I would write a post I have wanted to tackle for awhile, which is about bringing our school newspaper into the 21st century and taking it online. Below I'll outline how I chose our host site, tips and tricks for bringing your school newspaper online, and how to combat possible issues with doing so.

You can also read my first post about organizing a journalism class here.

How I chose our host site:
There are different websites out there that will host a school paper. One common site that is free is, which is a high school journalism organization. I have nothing against this organization and think it is great, but their options for bringing your paper online were limited. We didn't have as much freedom, as many layouts to choose from, and it overall didn't look as professional.

After literally just Googling "high school online newspapers," I found School Newspapers Online  
This website hosts newspapers from elementary schools through colleges and even some professional organization newspapers. I browsed through their clients list and looked at some local papers that used this host website and loved what I saw. 

SNO lets you choose from about 6 different possible layouts, you can add a plethora of widgets for free including a calendar, sports score scroll, polls, videos, photo slideshows, etc. You really can customize this website exactly how you like it, and it is so user-friendly.

The cost is $600/year for the first year and $300 after that. You can choose your own URL (ours is is our school paper You tell them what tabs you want at the top of the page, what colors you want to use, etc., and they have it set up for you within a couple days. Any time I have questions or issues, I get a response within an hour or two from their tech help team.

In order to publish an article, you just copy and paste the body into a text box, click a button to upload a pic with it, type in author's name and hit "publish." It is that simple, and it's exactly what I was looking for.

*P.S. I am in no way, shape, or form getting paid by SNO, nor do I work for them. Just wanted to share a site that worked for us.

Tips and Tricks for online Journalism

1. Survey students, teachers, community members, etc. to get a feel for interest.
We had normally put out one paper copy of the newspaper per month and it got circulated during homeroom. We knew kids read it because many times, teachers would use this as their homeroom activity for the week and distribute the papers for kids to read. I was concerned that we would lose readership by taking the paper completely online, when kids would have to choose to go to that site in their free time or during study hall.

After researching a possible host site, I brought it up with my staff. They all loved the idea. Then we surveyed some random students in study halls, and I talked it over with our principal. The response was overwhelmingly positive. This made me feel more confident about moving forward with this endeavor.

2. Promote, promote, promote!

We had to get the word out about our new site. I waited until we had had it for about two weeks and had a couple weeks' worth of articles uploaded, so there was content to read. Then I ran a school announcement in the morning announcements for three days, highlighting what types of articles we were running, what students might be interested in, etc.

I made colorful flyers with our new address on it and posted 20 copies around the school, including in the teacher's lounge and mail room, so staff got interested too.

We sent out a Skylert email to parents of students in the district (automated e-mail through Skyward) with the new address and highlighting interesting content. I get a Google analytics e-mailed to me each Monday showing the hits to our site every week. The day that e-mail was sent out, we had over 100 hits. It went out on a Friday and that entire weekend we were getting over 50 hits per day. On a normal day, we may have 15-20 hits.

Every time we have a new feature on our site or a particularly interesting article, I will run it in the morning announcements so students don't forget about checking it out.

3. Have a schedule for uploading content.

I went through this in more detail in my previous post about building a journalism class.  But basically, I have 2-3 students assigned to each day of the week for deadlines on articles. That means we publish at least two new articles each day. My editors are in charge of physically publishing these articles.

I also have to keep up the calendar, polls, sports scores, breaking news ticker, etc. My sports writer is in charge of maintaining the sports scores daily. He also often writes breaking news tickers/articles.

An administrator (me) is the only one who can upload polls. I try to publish a new poll every week and have it tie in with an article we recently wrote. The two most recent polls are displayed at all times on our front page sidebar. I also sit down every month and add new events to our calendar taken straight from our school calendar.

Combating possible issues

1. I'm sure many people are leery of letting students have access to publishing things online. I am too, which is why I only let my two editors and my sports writer have accounts. None of my other students have a log-in to our website. They write articles and find pics, but after I approve them, it goes to an editor to publish. I am also on our site during class time and double check everything that gets uploaded. In the future, I may (depending on the class) let other students have limited accounts (some accounts let them publish their own articles and some accounts let them write on our site but not actually publish).

2. Inappropriate comments.
This was a concern to me, too, but I wanted the option of comments so it could be interactive. This is why I chose a site that allows comment moderation beforehand.

In order to post a comment on our site, you must give a first and last name, plus a valid e-mail address. We do not allow anonymous comments. You must enter a captcha to try and combat spam (although I do get a fair share of spam comments), and then it gets e-mailed to me to moderate. I can post it, spam it, or trash it. This way students (or others) can interact with our articles and comment, but it is controlled, since it's still a school site.

3. Monetary concerns
We get sponsorships from local businesses to offset the costs of running a paper (this has honestly SAVED us so much money! We were paying close to $1600/year to get our paper copies printed).

At the beginning of each school year, we brainstorm a list of local businesses that may sponsor us. From that list, I cross off any that have been rude to us or not sponsored in the past and probably won't or that don't want to be bothered. I assign 3-4 businesses to each group of students (they usually travel in pairs).

The staff goes out to these businesses and we work on how they will approach asking for a sponsorship. We charge $15/month for a business to be located on our "sponsors" page with their company logo and a link to their website. We typically get 10-12 sponsors per school year, which is more than enough to cover our website expenses. In the future, I am also looking into selling advertisements for a little more money, which would be a larger ad that runs on our front page.

 So there you have it. Some tips and advice for transitioning your paper online. Another way to do this a little slower is to have a hybrid paper: publish online but keep paper copies as well. For us, it was more cost-efficient to just go completely online, plus it was eco-friendly. The kids are enjoying it, and I am loving it too. I can't believe how professional it looks! We have gotten nothing but positive comments about it, and I feel like the quality of articles students write have gone up since the move online.

Just as a side note, I wanted to mention a teaching documentary I watched this morning on my snow day that I highly recommend. I have Netflix streaming and am always looking for interesting things to watch.

Today I watched a docu called The American Teacher.

It chronicles four teachers through a school year and really gives a true glimpse into the trials and tribulations of being a public school teacher. I loved that it praised teachers, rather than criticized them. It shows the financial difficulties and strain it can put on teachers' families, the time commitment necessary, etc. As a public school teacher myself, I loved it and thought it was spot-on. So if anyone else is enjoying a snow day today, you might check it out!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Today's Technology Tidbit: Using Documentary in the Classroom

 This lesson is also included on Tried It Tuesday

Sorry it has been a whole week since I last posted. I really try to post at least thrice weekly. It has been a long, busy, and stressful week.

First we had my father-in-law's health issues going on and some nerve-wracking days with that. Then it was my birthday Friday (yay!) so my parents came down for a couple days and met our super high-anxiety dog (have I told you my dog hates people coming in the house, especially men? Yeah). Thankfully it actually went really well. Now today, we're getting 6" of snow! This does not sit well with me. It's spring for crying out loud!

So all of that led to my lack of posting, but I hope to get back on it this week, starting with a technology tidbit today.

I like to use film in the classroom when it's relevant. I look for high interest pieces that serve a purpose, and often times, show clips and not even the whole thing.

Today I want to talk a little about how I use documentaries in my classroom. I have Netflix streaming, and they actually have a TON of great documentaries on there that you can watch instantly. Of course, the one I wanted to use this week that I'm about to discuss is one that is NOT on there. Grr.

I am teaching the process of argument for my College English course. We discussed the parts of a successful argument (claim, support, assumption), different appeals of argument (ethos, pathos, logos--we did a Wikispace assignment where each student was assigned one appeal and had to post an example of it from modern-day media), counterargument and refute or concession, as well as discussed logical fallacies that we need to watch out for in argument.

Though they will be writing their argumentative essays, I wanted to show them a non-print example, so I decided to show clips of the Michael Moore documentary Sicko.

Many of the Michael Moore documentaries would work also. If you have never seen his documentaries, he is extremely liberal and is blatantly so. I emphasize to my students that I am not promoting his ideas on things and that that isn't what they should focus on; rather, they should focus on the process of the argument he makes, and they should watch to analyze and evaluate his actual argument.

We started watching this Friday. I gave them a sheet of questions to answer as they watched. Some of the questions were:
  • What is his main claim?
  • What different appeals does he use and what are examples of each?
  • What type of support does he use for his argument?
  • What assumptions does he make based on this support?
  • Does he address the counterargument? If so, how? Does he refute or concede it?
  • How successful is his argument overall?
On Monday we will wrap up watching part of it and discuss their findings. There are parts of his argument that are done very well and are strong and parts that are weaker. We'll point these out and apply his strategy of making an argument to their own topics and essays. I also like that it's a current hot button issue (universal healthcare) so it's relevant to the larger context of the course (writing in the context of current social issues in our society).

We do look at some written examples of argument too, but I like to get out of the textbook and bring in non-print sources whenever I can. For their next and final essay of the year, they are going to be writing an analysis of advertisements in social media, for example. They can still learn the process of writing an argument but apply it to something non-print. It holds their interest and makes it more relevant.

If you'd like more titles of great, school-appropriate documentaries, just let me know. I have watched many (or parts of many of them) on Netflix.

*There is a small amount of strong language in Sicko, so I wouldn't use it with kids younger than high school, and I'd probably use it for upper high school at that. I am much more lax with what I show my college-level seniors since it is a college course and I know they can handle it maturely. Honestly I think there may be a "bitch" and "ass" in the film, but nothing more than that.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Teaching Poetry with "Gangsta's Paradise"

I started a store on Teachers Pay Teachers! For more project ideas like this one, visit my store here .

Every year, I try to open my sophomore poetry unit with music. When I mention we are beginning poetry, the kids usually groan with dread, I think for a couple reasons:
1. They are bored by it and feel they can't relate to any of these "old white guys" writing poetry;
2. They find it hard to understand.

To try and contradict both of those pre-conceived notions, I try to show them other forms of poetry that contradict what their idea of poetry is and show them they may like poetry more than they think.

I first printed off this PDF that has a bunch of authors' definitions of what poetry is. (My best teaching advice is to beg, borrow, and steal ideas instead of reinventing the wheel. I searched "What is poetry?" on Google Scholar to get more scholarly articles and resources coming up and this was the second result-perfect!)

 I put the students in groups and had them write down 3 of these definitions that resonated with them and what they think they mean. Then I had each group try and write their own definition of poetry. After they finished, we discussed as a group. I had many kids saying things like, "Poetry has to rhyme" or "Poetry has to be about a certain subject," things like that. Which I LOVED because I want to CHALLENGE their ideas of poetry in this unit.

So then I passed out a handout that had selection #1, 2, and 3 on it. Under each selection I asked three questions:

1. How do you feel when listening to this selection? (mood)
2. How do you think the author felt about this topic when writing? (tone)
3. What is the central message of this selection? (them)

I did not let on that I was going to play music, so they were pleasantly surprised when the first bars of Rascal Flatts' "Life is a Highway" came out of my laptop.


I try to update the songs I use each year to make them more current, but this Rascal Flatts song I have used for years because of the obvious use of metaphor and other literary devices. Plus they know it from the movie Cars and our school has a huge population of country music lovers. I had them answer the selection 1 questions for this song.

A new song I added this year was Katy Perry's "Firework" for my pop selection. I played most of that song and they answered those questions.

Finally I wanted a rap/hip hop song, which is always the hardest because of the vulgar language and curse words in most of modern day rap. So I took a risk and used an older song that I wasn't sure if they would know or not: "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio.

I double and triple checked the lyrics: no swear words. Plus it actually has a theme and life lesson, unlike many rap songs today. To my pleasant surprise, a couple kids knew all the words, and at the very least, all had heard of it. (I felt super old when I saw this song was released in '95 and my students weren't even born yet!)

They loved that I brought in music and had fun listening to the songs. Then after we talked about things like "Can music be poetry? Does it fit our "requirements"? How is it like poetry?"

We ran out of time that day, but the next day I gave them a list of literary terms like metaphor, simile, etc., as well as printed out all these song lyrics and each group got one song to pick out as many literary devices as they could.

This is just one thing I do to try and make poetry more entertaining. After we get through all the required poetry forms, I do a mini-unit on modern-day slam poetry as well and show some slam poem clips on YouTube (I will post those coming up), and we host our own poetry slam in class. It's pretty fun. Poetry doesn't have to be the bane of your existence!

Well it has been a stressful weekend in the L household. My father-in-law was admitted to the hospital Friday night for a possible stroke and multiple seizures in another town. We drove up yesterday morning and spent all day there. Good news is, he is improving and they are thinking it may be infection, not stroke. So prayers for him! I brought home a ton of papers to grade and got none done yesterday, so that's my life today. But family comes before the job, always.

Take care and happy St. Patty's Day!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Today's Technology Tidbit:

Currently in my workplace writing course, we're doing our job unit of resumes, cover letters, and interviews. I bring in some higher-ups in the community to give tips and tricks for all of these, plus conduct mock interviews for each of my students with a community member. 

To do this, I have my students find a job posting online that they will use for all of this job correspondence. I want them tailoring resumes and cover letters to a specific position, since that's what they will be doing in real life. The stipulation is, they have to have all the required qualifications (I let them pretend they have gotten their HS diploma), so they can't look for jobs like RN, teacher, engineer, etc. I don't want them making up fake experience.

We talk about looking for entry-level jobs to get their foot in the door. So for those who want to go into medicine or nursing, I have them look at phlebotomy jobs or office work at a local hospital that only require a HS diploma to sort of get their foot in the door at a place they may eventually want to work as a nurse.

But then I have students where this doesn't necessarily apply or they have no idea what career they want yet. I also have some that just want to do something fun (and a few of my students are seriously considering this).

I discovered an awesome website called Cool Works. 

 Students (or anyone, really) can apply for short-term "adventure" type jobs all over the country.

For instance, you could be a tour guide in the Grand Canyon. Or a camp counselor in a national park. Or drive a truck in Alaska.

It's perfect for students looking to do something different in the summer, while still making money. It gets them out meeting new people and seeing other parts of the world. And it would look awesome on a college application or resume. There are a plethora of different job fields they can search in, or they can search by state/location.

I did notice some jobs required people 18+ years of age, so you may have to double check age requirements for younger students (and they will likely have to be at least 16 for everything). I thought it was a great option for my seniors, not just for this project, but in real life as well.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Julius Caesar Project Options

 I started a store on Teachers Pay Teachers! For more project ideas like this one, visit my store here.

Well, much to my students' excitement, we have finally finished reading Julius Caesar.

How can they not love a play that includes plotting an assassination and a woman swallowing fire?

 I gave them tests after each Act to ensure they were understanding it and the literary terminology associated with it, such as tragic hero, tragic flaw, theme, soliloquy, etc.

By the way, a really cool short cartoon film version of the play by Cliff Notes that I showed and they loved can be found here.

It does a nice job of hitting all main points, as well as labeling characters and including things like persuasion and rhetoric.
 In the past I've had them write in-class essays as sort of the capstone project, but I got bored with those, so I know the kids did, too. Plus we start our persuasive writing unit very soon, so they will be writing'd out.

Instead, I decided to come up with some more creative project options and let them choose which one they want to do.

I gave them 6 choices. On the handout they received, I inserted all of these into a chart and gave a description of the requirements for each. Here, I will be more brief.

1) Write a newspaper article including interviews with characters, photos, a headline, etc. that reports on all the major happenings in the play.

2) Write a modern-day version of this play: Students should write it in play format, but update it to 2013. They can change character names, setting, etc. but the THEME must remain the same. (I used the example of updating The Taming of the Shrew to the 90s film 10 Things I Hate About You.) Then the girls gushed about Heath Ledger for a few minutes lol.

3) Write a detailed interview with three of the main characters with you as the interviewer. I am making them do at least 2 pages for this one and write detailed and accurate responses for each question that are based on info from the play.

4) Plan out your own movie version of JC, including casting all main parts with modern-day actors, coming up with a setting, deciding which scenes you will cut and planning out at least 3 songs for the soundtrack.

5) Pretend you are one of the main characters and write three separate blog entries from that person's perspective. My students got so caught up on the fact that Portia killed herself by swallowing coals, so an example I gave was they could pretend they are Portia on the day of her suicide and blog about her thoughts and feelings leading up to her decision to kill herself as one entry.

6) Pick one Act and depict it in graphic novel format. It should contain at least ten frames, the drawings should have good detail, and the words can be in modern day language, but must be accurate to the play.

On Friday, I introduced the options and had them turn in a brief proposal outlining which option they chose and some preliminary decisions they made. So far, I have one student on each option except #6, but I had two absent students who both love drawing, so I think at least one will pick #6.

I love doing projects like this from time-to-time. Not only is it more interesting for the kids and they can hopefully find an option they really get into, but it is more interesting for the teacher to be able to read a bunch of different projects, rather than almost the same paper over and over again.

These options can be easily adapted to another play or even a novel or short story, as well as other content areas altogether. Feel free to steal it and tweak as necessary!

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Round Robin" Peer Editing

Well. It's Friday. Thank the lord. It has been a looooong week. Today I came home to a blanket chewed to shreds by my dog. First time she has ever chewed anything. So that was fun. And with the nice warmer weather comes people outside, walking dogs and working in yards, which brings me lots of barks from my little girl. Good thing I love her so much ;)

But I wanted to talk a little about something I tried today with my College English students. Every paper they write, we do peer editing/reviewing in class. I think this is so important because, for one, it teaches them to think of an audience besides just the teacher. They should realize other people will read their writing and try to write for a broader audience. 

They also have to understand that just because something makes sense in their own heads, doesn't mean it makes sense to other people. We also have a tendency to think what we are doing is right and not realize what other things we may be missing or did not think of. I try to get at least 3 peer editors to read each paper, depending on time.

Over the course of this year, I have tried many different methods of peer response. It can become tedious for them and I know it's not their favorite thing to do, so I try to change it up. Today I decided to have them sit in a circle (I only have 9 in this class) and get out their essays and a sheet of paper. On the top of their own paper, they wrote "author: their name." Then they passed their essay and that sheet of paper to the right.

I made up 8 rounds of peer editing (I typed up a handout for them explaining each round). In essence, they would focus on something different for each round. So in round one, they simply read for the thesis. They highlighted it when they found it, and on the author's paper under Round 1, answered some questions I gave them about the thesis. After round 1 is complete, we passed the papers again. Now each student is looking at a different essay for round 2, where they focus only on topic sentences.

In total we had 8 rounds so that each student's essay made it all the way around the circle (well it should have. We had some absences today, but it still worked fine because even if they saw an essay twice, they were doing different things each time).

By the end of it, each author got a paper back with 8 different rounds and 8 different focuses, ranging from thesis to support to organization to mechanics and style. They also had a bunch of different students read their essays instead of just one or two, which is why I like this method.

We started this yesterday halfway through class and it also took all of today's class. Next time I think I will budget three days for this method and try to get each paper around the circle twice (so there would be two Round 1's, but two different people completing round 1) for even more feedback. Hopefully they got some useful revisions.

Over the weekend, they are filling out a conference preparation sheet in preparation for our conferences Mon-Tues. I ask them to do a variety of things to evaluate their own essay, I have them mark different things in the essay as proof to show me, and then I have them grade themselves using the rubric and explain the grade to me. I spend about 10-15 min with each student. I don't know how I will do this if I get bigger sections next year, but we'll cross that bridge later. I love doing them because it gives me a chance to touch base before I see final essays and lets them ask one-on-one questions. I do not read the entire essay and tell them what to fix; instead, it is student-led and they come to ME with specific questions and point out only specific sections for me to read and answer questions on. I like having it more focused this way.

Have a great weekend, everyone! My principal told me today that I will soon be receiving a SMARTBoard, so that was the highlight of my Friday :)

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Teacher

I always find it interesting to read about a day in the life of other people. Maybe I'm weird. But one of the most interesting parts of using the Occupational Outlook Handbook I posted yesterday is, for me, to read about what goes on in the daily lives of different professions. I feel like I have this preconceived notion of what each job entails, when in actuality I may be way off.

So I thought I would post about a sample (work)day in my life. In case anyone cares, ha! So here's what I did/am doing today:

5:30-Alarm goes off. Roxie jumps in bed and vigorously licks our faces

5:40--Actually roll out of bed

5:45-6:45--Get ready for work, eat breakfast, pack lunch, catch up on e-mail or poke around online a bit

6:45-7:35--50 min. commute to work. Today my soundtrack was Babel by Mumford & Sons

7:35-8:00--Check mailbox at work, get settled in for the day.
During this time I check work e-mail, change the due dates for each class on the board, make sure I have all the copies I need for that day in order, and look at my lesson plan book for the day.

Each week, I put a post-it note on my lesson plan book with all handouts/tests/quizzes I need to type or make copies of. I actually got a ton done on Friday and don't have a whole lot of extra prep work this week.

And just for fun, I wanted to post a picture of my window ledge (pardon the bad lighting). I got all the flowers and vases from Hobby Lobby, as well as the magazine holders. I let my study hall kids read magazines if they choose to.

8:00-8:20--First bell rings, so the kids can come up in the hallways. I usually stand outside with another English teacher and a math teacher to supervise.

First hour is English IV. Today we finished peer editing our summaries from last week, and they filled out their revision plan for the final draft.

Second period is prep. On my prep, I do a bunch of different things. Today I hopped on our newspaper website to add some calendar events, check comments, etc. I respond to emails or phone calls I receive. I will bring copies down to be run, fill out forms or complete other tasks I need to do, like deposit money into our newspaper account, book labs through the librarians, etc. I also try to do some lesson planning/grading if I can, but it's hard to get much of that accomplished in under 50 min. I also always have Pandora going during prep!

Third hour is study hall. I monitor the kids who stay in my room, send kids with passes to work in the library via Google Doc and try to get some of my own work done.

Fourth hour is English IV again.

I have lunch from 11:56-12:26. I typically have 20 min. to eat because I wait to leave until the halls clear and want to be back in my room 5 min. before 5th period. I eat with about 5-6 other teachers in someone else's classroom.

Fifth hour is English II. Today they took a vocab. quiz and began working in small groups of answering questions for Act IV of Caesar. I gave them a certain number as a minimum to complete for their "pass" out of the room. Since they all did finish those and more, we went over the answers too. My principal stopped in this hour for an impromptu observation for a few minutes (all the administrators are visiting classrooms a ton this school year).

Sixth hour is College English. Today I checked their theses for the upcoming explanation synthesis essay. I discussed it with them, gave suggestions and looked at their organizational plan. While I conferenced with each student, the others were working on summarizing each section and pinpointing topic sentences, so they can start drafting tomorrow.

Seventh hour is newspaper. I helped the editor upload articles that were ready to be published today, helped some students brainstorm ideas for this week's issue, edited a couple articles that will be ready for publishing tomorrow, and looked over interview notes for articles in their very early stages. During this period, I also have an independent study student taking ENG IV who checks in with me. I went over his assignment from last week and discussed his upcoming work with him.

3:08-3:30--If I have no meetings (I will have a department meeting, curriculum meeting, or some random other meeting about once a week; I also meet weekly to mentor a new teacher in the department), I will help kids who stop by for extra help or administer make-up tests. If I have NONE of that to do, I try to get a little bit of easy grading done, like today I was able to quickly grade my 12 vocab. quizzes after school and get those recorded. I also make sure to get any un-edited newspaper articles edited and placed back in their mailboxes before I leave for the day.

3:30-4:30--Commute home. There is always more traffic coming home.

4:30-5:30--Take Roxie out and play with her while I wait for my husband to get home from work. I'll also hop online and check Facebook, the blogs I read, etc.

5:30-7:00--Eat dinner and do random things, like do any grading I took home, do any lesson planning I have to do, etc.

7:00-8:00--Do something to work out; I will either ride my spin bike in the basement or do a workout DVD. When it's nice out, my husband and I may bike or run outdoors or take the dog for a walk.

8:00--Shower--I am totally a night shower-er. I hate showering in the morning.

8:30-11:00--Try to relax a little. We will watch some shows, catch up on DVR, or Netflix a movie. I usually call my mom and chat for a bit too.

11:00--Go to bed to rest for another day of teaching!

What is a day in your life like?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Today's Technological Tool: The Occupational Outlook Handbook

One resource I like to use with my English IV class, which is workplace communications, is the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here's the page for the career of "high school teacher."

This is a credible and easy-to-navigate website that gives current information on a plethora of different careers. Each semester, I have my English IV seniors do a career comparison project where they choose 3 careers they are somewhat interested in, complete a profile on each answering questions about salaries, job outlook, a day in the life, etc. and then make 3 graphs, charts, or other visual aids comparing data from all three jobs.

This accomplishes a few things:
1. It forces students to search for information on the Internet. Seriously, I know how stupid this sounds since our kids are supposed to be tech-savvy, but you would be shocked at how many students, given a piece of info they have to find on the Web, don't even know where to begin. OR they look in one spot and if it isn't there, they give up.

2. It is hopefully helpful for them in the real world because it gives them information on possible careers and gives them some real facts about it. I have had many students in the past say they were unaware how little/how much a certain career made or that a job they wanted had a terrible job outlook, etc.

3. It gives them experience using Excel or Word to make graphs or visuals. Most of my students have little to no experience in Excel, yet many jobs they want will require knowledge of it. We do a unit on graphs, charts, etc., when each is appropriate, etc. and then I teach them how to make these things in Excel. They have to visually represent three different types of measurable data that they found in the OCO in the appropriate type of visual aid. So they may do a bar graph comparing average salaries of each job, etc.

If a student tells me he/she has absolutely no idea what job they want to do or what careers to do the project on, I have them take a career quiz at a place like

While you obviously have to take these quizzes with a grain of salt, it does give them a place to start and some career titles they may not have heard of before.

I love the OCO because it's a government site, it's reputable, and the info is pretty recent (the salary listed above is the 2010 median). It also has a wide variety of jobs and career fields too, so they should be able to find either the specific career they want or one very close to it. This would be a great website to use in a resource management or career course, and would be a nice tool even for guidance counselors to use when talking to seniors about jobs or college. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Vocab. Activities

I am writing this post from one of my favorite places in the city: Barnes & Noble. This is where I do the majority of my essay grading, lesson planning, and when I was in Grad school-homework.

I sit here today with my favorite Starbucks drink of the moment-a Very Berry Hibiscus refresher--and typing out scholarship recommendation letters for students. This is a super busy time of year for my seniors, and many of them ask me to write letters of recommendation, which I am happy to do.

But today I would like to talk about something at the sophomore level: vocabulary.

Teaching vocab. is probably one of my least favorite subject areas to teach, but it's a required part of the curriculum for English I-III. This year is our first year using a Prestwick House vocab series that focuses on learning words through prefixes, suffixes, and Latin & Greek roots. Each unit focuses on 4 new root words, as well as 12 vocab. words made from those roots.

The kids tend to HATE doing vocabulary, and I get bored of simply doing the required workbook activities too. So over the years, I have compiled a bunch of different supplemental activities I can do to help learn that week's words in (hopefully) a more enjoyable way. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Word webs in groups (or alone)
This year we've also started doing testing three times a year that will soon become part of our evaluation (showing progress over the year). I can sort my students' results by RIT score for different areas, including vocab. So I put them in vocab. teams for the semester according to their scores. I try to give each team a fun name. This semester, I named my teams according to popular singers right now, like one team is Team Justin Bieber, one is Team One Direction and so on. They get a kick out of it.

Each group is given 3 of the 12 words to focus on and complete a word  "web" on. You can actually make it look like a web if you want or simply type out the following prompts on a sheet of paper. When everyone is done, I make enough copies for the entire class, so all students will get a word web for all 12 words to use to study, though their group only had to do them for 3.

Vocab. word:
Part of speech:
Root meaning:
Definition in your own language:
What other familiar words does this word remind you of?
Use this word in your own sentence.
What are synonyms and antonyms of this word?
What's a memory device we could use to remember the definition?
Draw a picture to illustrate this word.

2. Vocab. picture Internet activity (sorry-never claimed to have creative names for them!)
This is somewhat similar to the webs except I always have the kids do this one solo, and they tend to like it because they can browse for pictures on Google images.

In a Word document, I have them type each of the 12 words (they can use fun fonts for this activity), the definition, and use it in a sentence. Then I have them go to Google images or Clip Art to find a photo that embodies that word for them. I always advise them to NOT Google the actual vocab. word, or they will simply get pictures of the word. Instead they should think of what picture they may want and Google for that instead.

For instance, a word we had recently was "exonerate." Perhaps they could search for a photo of handcuffs breaking loose or someone breaking out of jail to show they have been found not guilty. Under each picture, they need to explain how that picture relates to the vocab. word. You could adapt this activity to subjects besides English, too. I think it could work for foreign languages or even content-specific vocabulary in science or social studies.

3. Make a crossword puzzle
There is a free crossword puzzle maker at

It is fairly user-friendly, though it was better in the past and they changed it, so I am on the lookout for an even better site. I have each student make their own crossword puzzle using definitions, sentences, synonyms/antonyms as clues (they have to make sure to type out each vocab. word correctly spelled or the puzzle will be wrong). After they make one and print it out, they switch with another student and will take complete each others'. For only 12 words, I can usually have them make the puzzle and switch within one class period. They can also print out a solution to the puzzle.

4. Make a cartoon strip
I tend to have a lot of art-loving students who want to draw all the time! To get them interested, I will sometimes give the option of doing a cartoon comic strip using all the vocab. words (many times, I give the class 3-4 different options for vocab. activities and they can choose which one they want to do).

For this, I usually set a minimum number of "slides" they can have, like 10. They need to think of a plot and draw out all the different slides, using the vocab. words correctly in thought/speaking bubbles. My art-focused students always choose this option and really enjoy it.

For each unit, we typically spend 1-2 days doing different activities, and one class period reviewing for their quiz. I have a variety of review games we play, such as Board Races, Around the World, Vocab. Bingo, Sparkle, and a Jeopardy-type game using our buzzer system. 

Vocab. may not be the most fun thing we do in English, but it IS possible to make it more enjoyable, and it starts with getting out of the workbook and not doing the same exercises in the book week after week.

I will also sometimes offer a few extra credit points if they use any of that week's words correctly in another class and have that teacher sign off on them using it correctly. This is a good way to entice them to incorporate new vocab. into their everyday language.