Archive | December, 2013

What to Read Next? Reading Recommendation Platforms

22 Dec

bless my sponge bathThe good folks at goodreads.com sent me a not-so-good year-in-review email this week. They congratulated me on reading seven books in 2013. I’m not sure why, but they have it wrong. I read 31.

I looked up my actual number in the good-old-fashioned-analog book journal I have been keeping for about four years now. And, like every year, these books have varied in topic, genre, and style…to a degree. I typically read a smattering of non-fiction and poetry; try on the most recent Pulitzer and a few other major works of fiction; and wash this down with a healthy chug of fantasy/sci-fi.

Increasingly, I am drawn to piles and piles of YA. Technically, I need to read this writing for my job. I take pride in staying up-to-date on recommendations for the young adults I teach. But, I will also admit that I love the stuff. I take no shame, ladies and gentleman, in sharing similar tastes with thirteen-year-old girls. OK. I feel some shame when writing that line. Amendment: I take no shame in sharing similar tastes with bookish thirteen-year-old girls who know Twilight is rubbish and turn away in a huff from any book with glitter on its cover.

Of course, not everyone shares my reading tastes, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? There are plenty of books for every reader out there. In the classroom, I—like you—give students recommendations, and they—like yours—regularly suggest titles to one another. However, I also use some online resources to help students find books they want to read next:

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Teaching Metaphors and Similes: Make a Game of It

14 Dec

For students, learning about metaphors and similes can sometimes feel like doing taxes on April 14. Or taking your daily dose of cod liver oil poured over bran flakes. Or picking blueberries under a sweltering summer sun while wearing a corduroy three piece suit. Admit it. We English teachers can sometimes beat the joy right out of the most wonderful, playful topics.

I am 99.9% certain that at some point, in every English classroom around the globe, the definitions of metaphors and similes get taught in some fashion. Certainly, no reader can effectively glean understanding from texts without having at least an intuitive sense for the different functions of literal and figurative language. Learning to appreciate and evaluate language of comparison is a key part of any reader’s journey. Why, then, do so many students struggle to move beyond the most cursory understanding of these particular aspects of language? I think we must shoulder a hefty load of culpability here. Too often we teach these concepts in a basic manner, only assessing students’ ability to define and identify figurative devices.

One way I move beyond simple definitions of these terms is by playing a game that helps students understand the power of comparison and why using it well adds such style, life, and efficiency to our writing.

The game is a simple one. Pair students and give them two random nouns to compare. They have five minutes to list as many similarities as they can. After the five minutes, we share the results, and I award prizes for clever or copious responses.

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Putting It Out There: Take the Time to Publish

5 Dec

commaJust a short anecdote from an English 9 class that gives me a boost and reminds me why it is worth our time to make the extra effort to publish online. I have written before about how I use macros and AutoText to save time when giving feedback on writing. In a recent essay, one of my students was making a chronic comma error, one that I dub The Most Common Comma Error in the World. My AutoText comment to her was, “Remember our quick lesson on the most common comma error in the world? You make it time and time again, but it’s easy to fix.  Hint: the comma in that last sentence is a clue as to what mistake you’re making.” One problem. I never taught her class anything about this topic. Obviously, I thought I had.

Yet, it was not really a problem. She just Googled the phrase “The Most Common Comma Error in the World” and watched the video I had posted on this same topic years earlier. She viewed the video and made her changes.

It was a microscopic moment of flipped teaching, but it was one that reminds why I take the extra effort to share my work online: Continue reading

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