Friday, March 24, 2017

Teach This Lesson Tomorrow - Blackout Poetry

So, the other day, I have 8 kids that needed a catch-up day in writing. That meant that I had 18 other kids that would need something else to do! I wanted something quick and engaging, yet completely higher-level and creative. Enter BLACKOUT POETRY!

Blackout poetry is a blast and could not be easier! All you need are some markers and a couple of busted-up books that Duck tape can no longer save...

Newspapers can also work!!

The idea is that you give the kids a page and they block out or circle some letters, words, phrases, and sentences that, when read together, resemble a poem. Next, they use some markers to darken the rest of the page so that the words pop.

Here are some examples:

Cool right?!?

Anyway, this makes the perfect "in between" writing assignment, center activity, or sub plan! The kids really enjoy it and they have to do some serious thinking to put together something that makes sense. And when they are finished, they look awesome hanging in the hallway :)

Are you or your students blackout poets? I'd love to see some of your work!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I'd be remiss if I didn't share the most popular blackout from the other day... from the minds of "trending" middle schoolers:

 (Don't worry if you don't get it! I had no idea what it meant until a few weeks ago!!)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Writing from Lists - The Video!!

If you've been a reader of my blog, then you know that writing from lists is my JAM! It's definitely one of my best practices and I can't tell you how much better, more authentic my students' writing became once I started using lists to generate writing topics.

I put this video together to give you a better picture of how I make list writing work in my classroom. I'd love some feedback, as I see more and more "vlog" posts in the future for Musings from the Middle School :)

Do you use list writing in your classroom? Think you'd like to give it a try? I'd love to hear from you!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Academic Vocabulary

Every once in a while, I find some lesson or strategy or routine that fundamentally improves the learning in my classroom. One such routine is the systematic teaching of academic vocabulary words. Academic vocabulary are words that are routinely used in academic dialogue and text. They are the words that can often be found in questions/assessments for all subject areas and are scattered throughout standardized tests.

Long ago, during a guided reading group where I was working on writing structured responses to literary analysis questions in preparation for the NJ ASK, I discovered that, despite using the word at least a million times frequently in class, my kids had no idea what the word "cite" actually meant. I thought back to how many times I mentioned or saw in directions "be sure to cite from the text to support your answer" over the course of the year. Time and time again these kids were being asked to "cite" but they had no idea what that meant they were supposed to do.

After a little research, I discovered the world of academic vocabulary and from that moment on, I taught these words to my students.

There are dozens and dozens of words that can be considered academic vocabulary, but after spending some quality time with our district's reading and social studies series, I've narrowed the list down to the following words essential for middle school students:

  • affect
  • analyze
  • apply
  • argue
  • assess
  • cite
  • claim
  • compare
  • consider
  • context
  • critique
  • demonstrate
  • determine
  • differentiate
  • discuss
  • distinguish
  • effect
  • evaluate
  • explore
  • identify
  • illustrate
  • infer 
  • interpret
  • oppose
  • organize
  • paraphrase
  • process
  • recall
  • refer
  • strategy
  • summarize
  • symbolize
  • theme
  • valid
  • vary
  • verify
I introduce the words a few at a time and we practice using them. I point them out everywhere I see them and we talk again and again about their meaning. I hang posters of the words with their definitions in my room and refer back to them all.the.time.

This has made a HUGE difference in my students' learning. Their answers to structured response questions improved and I had a lot less confusion/questions about assessment items. (Before, I'd find kids would often say, "I don't get it" about certain test questions. I had always assumed that kids meant the concept the question was assessing... it never occurred to me that they were actually struggling with the wording of the question itself!)

Do you teach academic vocabulary to your students? Do you have a system for doing so? I'd love to hear about it!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

The academic vocabulary posters featured in this post can be found here.