3 Tips for Teaching Editing

3 Tips for Teaching Editing in the Secondary English Language Arts Classroom
As an English teacher, I find few things more cringe-worthy than looking over a student’s paper and seeing they’ve made easily avoidable mistakes. Such errors might include forgetting to capitalize a name, using “your” when they meant “you’re”, or even misspelling the title of the book they spent several days reading. I feel that the reason that most of these problems arise is that students place all their energies in getting the assignment finished and avoid investing time in the art of revising.

Here are three tips I hope you will pass along to your students on how to become better editors and turn in more polished papers.

3 Tips for Teaching Editing in the Secondary English Language Arts Classroom1. Read for a specific error
I speak from personal experience from back when I was a student that a lot of grammatical errors are overlooked because students only reread their writing once. They place too much trust in themselves that they can find every error in a single scan. While it is likely they will find the majority of errors that first time, it is equally likely that several mistakes will fly under their radar and lower their grade. To avoid missing out on easy points , students should reread their papers at least three times, each time looking for a specific error. For example, the first read could be for punctuation, the next one for grammar, and a third time for checking that the assignment answers the prompt without tangents. By looking for specific errors, a student’s editing will be more focused and thus more likely to catch simple mistakes.

2. Get a fresh pair of eyes
I remember writing once for a school assignment -much to my embarrassment- “must of” when I meant “must’ve.” The biggest pitfall with self-editing is that our brains trick us into believing we wrote what we meant to write, essentially making our errors invisible to us. It can be helpful to ask someone you trust to take a look at your paper after you carefully self-edited. It is also beneficial to ask your reader if he/she could follow your line of thinking in answering the assignment prompt and readability. This is where peer editing helps students produce better writing.

3. Read your paper out loud
Earlier I mentioned how self-editing can be tricky because our brains have the tendency to read what we meant to write. To avoid such editorial entanglements, instruct students to read their papers aloud to themselves. When a student verbalizes their writing, they are more likely to catch grammatical errors because they won’t sound right when spoken. It might even be beneficial to students to present their essay to the class in the form of a speech as part of an in-class editing session.

Three Short Stories Every High Schooler Should Read

3 short stories every high school student should read
Whoever coined the term, “Brevity is the the soul of wit” must have had short stories in mind. I love teaching and reading short stories in class because talented authors can create truly powerful messages and themes in just a few scant pages, all of which can be read and discussed within a single class period. Here are three short stories which I believe every high schooler should read.
3 short stories every high school student should read
Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’ Connor
This short story revolves around a recent college graduate, Julian, who is escorting his mother to her exercise classes because she is too afraid to take the bus alone after integration of African Americans into white society. O’Connor masterfully portrays the perspectives of the two generations: the mother’s blatant racism and how her views are stuck in the past and Julian’s more progressive, yet still superficial rationalization of reality. What makes this story so compelling is how it reveals to the reader how liking or “respecting” someone simply for their appearance is not much better than hating them for it and how prejudice is not always blatantly recognizable.
3 short stories every high school student should read
There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury
It is difficult to pick one gem out of the treasure trove that is the collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury, but I found this story especially powerful as well as haunting. The story involves a fully-automated house which goes about its daily duties despite having no inhabitants to tend to. It is slowly revealed through post-apocalyptic imagery that the house, and in fact, the whole neighborhood, was decimated by nuclear war leaving nothing behind but charred remains and a radioactive glow. Come evening time, the house performs a reading of one of its former  inhabitants favorite poems, There Will Come Soft Rains, which describes how nature will continue on even after mankind has killed itself off. The story is a vivid reminder of how mankind’s legacy is sure to outlive us all, which might not necessarily be a good thing.

I use this There Will Come Soft Rains Short Story Activities resource in my classroom when I teach the story. I also use these Ray Bradbury Bell Ringers to get my students thinking about the themes and motifs he includes in his writing.

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
Much like the previously mentioned Flannery O’Connor story, The Necklace expounds on the theme of judging by appearances as well as warning against the pitfalls of seeking happiness in material wealth. The story revolves around Mathilde Loisel, a woman who constantly bemoans her lowly economic status as she believes her charm and beauty are more deserving of the upper echelons of high society. When her overly-accommodating husband manages to gain an invitation to a formal ball, Mathilde splurges on a dress and borrows a piece of jewelry from one of her wealthy friends: a beautiful diamond necklace. The necklace proves to be the central symbol surrounding the story’s theme as well as Mathilde’s downfall.

Here is my Activities Bundle for The Necklace.

Lord of the Flies Map Project

Lord of the Flies map project with close reading and analysis.
I recently assigned my students a project for Lord of the Flies where they had to compile evidence from the novel to create a map of the island setting within the novel, and it was one of the most magical days in my classroom so far this year.

I gave my students only one day to complete this map project in class, and every single student was participating, thinking critically, and looking for clues within the text to help with the project.

Lord of the Flies map project with close reading and analysis.
In order to create such a successful day in the classroom, I front-loaded this activity quite extensively. About a week and a half before the map making activity, I instructed my students to record quotations about the setting and layout of the island. They recorded quotes and page numbers, and they also sketched out some of the setting as we read. As a bell-ringer on one of the days before the assignment, I assigned a couple pages from the novel as close reading and had my students write down two examples of imagery that vividly described the setting. At the end of the bell-ringer, several students shared their findings with the class.

We completed this assignment after reading the first three chapters of the novel. I wanted to assign this project early enough that it would help students understand the layout of the island, but I also wanted to make sure that they had enough text to work with.

Before actually assigning the map project, I made sure that my students were ready for the assignment and that they had enough details. Since so many maps of the island are available online, I wanted to make this an assignment that was solely based on textual evidence, and the only way to ensure that students didn’t look at examples online was to have this project be an in-class, one-day assignment.
My class worked in small groups of four to six students. In addition to producing a colorful and textually-accurate map, each group also had to complete a chart with properly cited quotes, and then match up those quotes to the details on the map.

At any given time in the class, there was always something to do. Students could look for details in the text, or they could write the quotes on the chart, or they could draw details on the map, or they could color the map. Every student was engaged, actively participating, and interacting with the text.

After the assignment was over, I used the maps and the masks my students created as another project to create a bulletin board for the rest of the unit of study. You can download the FREE Lord of the Flies bulletin board letters for your classroom HERE. Both the Lord of the Flies Map Project and Mask Project are included in my Lord of the Flies Teaching Unit.

The Most Confusing Punctuation and How to Use Them

The Most Confusing Punctuation and How to Use Them
After reading thousands of essays, quick writes, and classroom assignments throughout my teaching career, I’ve noticed a trend in student writing: students have a difficult time with properly punctuation their papers. This is especially true for punctuation that goes beyond end marks and commas. Here are the most commonly misused forms of punctuation I have found while reading student papers along with suggestions for how to best use them.

Colons :

Colons can do so much more than separate hours from minutes. They bring emphasis to a word or phrase while cutting down on clutter. As an example I could write:

There was only one thing that could make Mary happy today: a tub of Ben and Jerry’s slathered with chocolate syrup.

The colon makes the reader take notice of what comes next and even helps keep down my word count by taking place of the word “namely” or similar transitional phrases.  But it can still do more: it can separate a title from a subtitle, it can provide emphasis for a word or phrase; it can present a quotation, but most commonly, it is used to introduce lists, as I have just done.

Dashes -

The dash is much like a colon in that it brings emphasis to what follows. Most grammarians state that the dash’s power to provide emphasis is one step above a comma while still a step below a colon. Dashes are best used for embedding a thought in the middle of a sentence:

Mary’s children - all ten of them - struggled to find a place to sit in the back of the cramped minivan.

Or for providing a conclusion to a sentence:

Mary took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and stared down at the pregnancy test - positive.

Semicolons ;

The semicolon, best known for its role in the winky emoticon, ;-) , is probably the most misused form of punctuation by students, and honestly I can’t blame them. The semicolon is tricky because it is literally both a period and a comma at the same time, making a casual writer question if it is supposed to serve as a short breath between thoughts or a complete stop.

From my own writing experience, I like to think of the semicolon as a stronger version of the comma. I use the semicolon to link two independent clauses, thoughts that can stand as their own sentences, to show a close relationship between the two ideas. For example:

Some people think that the semicolon is esoteric and pretentious; I think it is versatile.

Semicolons are also useful for avoiding confusion in lists that use a lot of commas:

Most people today think the semicolon is either outdated, confusing, or useless; but others, mostly English teachers, still see its value.

For aesthetic reasons, the semicolon can also be used for preventing the overuse of commas in a paragraph or sentence. Have your students play around with this piece of punctuation to see how it can help spice up their writing.

Thankful to be a Teacher

Reasons why I am Thankful to be a Teacher
When I was younger, I never thought I would be a teacher. Sure, I used to play school with my younger cousins and siblings when I was younger. I would even draw out worksheets and write questions for them to answer about books I read or PBS shows I taped on a VHS cassette especially for my “school”, but I never gave a thought to teaching as a profession. Not once in high school, or college, or even in my first couple years after college did I ever think I would be a teacher.

Reasons why I am Thankful to be a Teacher
I wanted to work in media and communications, and I began my professional career in public relations working the high-tech circuit. I had many big-name tech companies as clients. I wrote press releases and organized media tours. I even traveled throughout the US and abroad assisting my clients in their media need. I loved working in this demanding field, but it didn’t fulfill me in the way that I always dreamt a career should.

After working for a few years in the private sector, I decided to make a change in my life. I decided to become a teacher. I went back to school and earned my teaching credential (in California, you must earn this after completing your baccalaureate degree) and my Master’s in Education during the middle of a recession. Teaching jobs were scarce, but I was very fortunate and I was hired to begin work the very next school year.

Several years have passed since my first year as a high school English teacher. I remember all of the struggles that came with being a first, a second, and even a third-year teacher. But even in those first few, and quite challenging, years, I remember how lucky and grateful I was for having the wonderful opportunity to be a teacher -especially a teacher in a low socioeconomic area where the odds were stacked against my students. I was thankful for the opportunity to make a difference and contribute something positive to society.

So this Thanksgiving break I am reflecting on everything for which I am thankful. And I must say, we teachers sure have a lot to be thankful for. Yes, the job can be challenging and stressful and downright tedious at time, but reaching just one child and making a true difference in just one child’s life makes all of the stress worthwhile.

  • I am thankful for my students who teach me new things every day.
  • I am thankful for my students because they make me laugh.
  • I am thankful for being challenged every day.
  • I am thankful for being able to share beautiful stories and poems with a new generation.
  • I am thankful that I have the opportunity to give back to communities.
  • I am thankful that I work in a great district that supports all students and teachers.
  • I am thankful that I can build a positive rapport with students.
  • I am thankful that I can teach kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance.
  • I am thankful for all of the wonderful parents who support my decisions in the classroom.
  • I am thankful for the opportunity to see 150 beautiful, smiling faces each day and call them my kids.
Reasons why I am Thankful to be a Teacher
There are so many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday, and being a teacher is definitely one of them.

4 Simple Tips to Improve Student Writing

4 ways to help high school and middle school students improve their writing.
Although what is considered to be “good” writing is lofty and subjective, we wouldn’t be English teachers if we didn’t try to improve our students’ writing skills. Here are some general tips and suggestions that can help polish any paper.

1. Use just and that sparingly
Most writers have words which they repeat without noticing throughout a paper, much like how some teenagers will say ‘like’ every other word or how an inexperienced public speaker will pepper their speeches with ‘um’s. For students, I find the most common, ineffective words they repeat are just and that. You might suggest your students do a ctrl + f  search for these words on their computers before they turn in a piece of writing and weed out as many of them as they can.

4 ways to help high school and middle school students improve their writing.
2. Place emphatic words near the beginning and at the end of the sentence
The eyes of readers tend to be drawn towards the white space at the beginning as well as at  the end of a sentence. As such, it is natural that the most exciting, crucial words are placed strategically in these positions. It takes a lot of practice and reading to get a natural feel for what makes a word emphatic, but generally, they’re the words which describe the most important aspects of the sentence and what it is trying to get across.

For example: “I have a dream,” said Dr. King, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In this sentence, emphasis is placed on Dr. King’s hope, his dream, that people of color would one day be treated as human beings, judged solely on the content of their character - a beautiful sentiment and alliteration. Dr. King’s strong sense of emphasis can be found throughout his speeches and are a big part of what made him such an effective orator.

3. Use adverbs to modify
The problem with adverbs is that most students use them to state the obvious, as in: “She whispered quietly.” A reader can already assume that if someone is whispering, they’re doing it quietly and therefore the writer has wasted precious space. However, if someone were to go against my expectations and whisper loudly, that is something I would want to know. In short, try to use adverbs to modify the reader’s perspective of the verb rather than state what we can already assume. This type of descriptive writing enhances one's writing.

4. When to be passive and when to be active
When a subject is active, it acts, as in: “Jimmy ran for his life.” In this sentence the verb, ran, was performed by Jimmy, the subject. When a subject is passive, it is acted upon, as in: “The students were taught.” Both the active and passive voice have their uses. In general, students should use the active voice because it helps make writing more concise and speeds a narrative along. However, passive voice helps bring attention to the receivers of actions. For instance, if I wanted to write about how lazy students get near the end of the year, the passive voice can emphasize how the students are acted upon rather than acting themselves. For example: “The students were reluctant to start.” Both types of voices have a purpose in a paper, but it takes a lot of patience and practice to learn how to use both effectively.

Introducing Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies introduction activity
One of my favorite novels to teach is Lord of the Flies because of how it exposes the raw brutality of humanity. In the very beginning the boys do their best to create and maintain civility, but as the novel progresses the boys slowly degenerate into savages.

To help my students understand this concept as it plays out in the novel, I have them complete a scenario-based introduction activity that naturally pits the students against each other. In some of my previous classes, students have either alluded to or directly stated exactly what happens in the book just by completing this introduction.

Lord of the Flies introduction activity
To begin, I inform the students that they are stranded on a tropical island that seems to be deserted and have them record their initial thoughts. I slowly reveal additional information to my students about their predicament and ask them to record their thoughts along the way. For example, I reveal that there are no adults and that they are accompanied by their classmates.

With the opening of this scenario, I like to internally classify my students as either Ralphs or Piggys. Some will be elated to be on the island sans adults, while others will begin to think about various provisions they may need in order to survive. It is very interesting to watch this introductory activity unfold in the classroom because some classes actually play out the novel with this scenario. They are able to predict the boys’ demise and hostility to one another.

As the activity progresses, I have students list their top three priorities and vote for a leader of the island. Selecting what the class should do first and electing a leader to call the shots will naturally begin to divide the students into groups. I use this division to help show what will happen in the novel, and I even encourage a little unstructured debating as to what the class should do first and why.

This introduction can take as little as half a class period, or fill it entirely. It all depends on how much student participation you encourage. Students love this day in my classroom, and they leave the class excited to read the book. As we read the book in class, I will point out similarities from this activity to what the boys experience during their plight on the island. The students are amazed to see just how parallel the similarities are, and the best part of this is that they maintain their engagement with the novel.

You can download this introduction to your Google Drive HERE!

Lord of the Flies Teaching Resources:

4 Ways to Help Students Write Their College Admissions Essays

4 Ways to Help Students Write Their College Admissions Essays
As hyperbolic as it might sound, everything an English teacher teaches their students is in preparation of them writing their college admissions essays. While the stakes for all prior written works were just letter grades, a well written admissions essay could very well be the stepping stone for a student to achieve their goals and dreams. As such, it is our duty to prepare high school juniors and seniors for these pivotal prompts and give them every advantage for starting the next stage of their lives. Here are 4 ways to help your students write their college admissions essays.

1. Teach what colleges don’t want to read.  Avoid the cliches!
Just like with a resume or a cover letter, a college admissions essay has to “sell” the student. As obvious as this may sound, too many students fail to promote themselves properly, which leads to the admissions officer being unable to differentiate them from the thousands of other “sales pitches” they read that week and subconsciously ignore them, just like how a tv watcher zones out when they see that commercial for car insurance for the umpteenth time.

The two major overused types of essays that almost always elicit a groan from admissions officers are the “Person I admire essay” and the “volunteer work” essay. The typical pitfall for students who write about someone they admire is that their writing tends to focus on their role model and they forget that they’re trying to promote themselves! And while volunteer work is admirable, it is not enough to impress anymore considering how popular it is amongst college bound students. Students need to write something only they could have written in order to stand apart from the competition.

2. Teach what colleges do want to read.
Colleges want to recruit students who will be successful, obviously. They want candidates who are motivated, love learning, and will be successful in their future field. This doesn’t mean the student has to have spectacular grades (although that certainly helps), but it does mean they have to be passionate about something and can portray how diligent they would be in working towards what drives that passion. That is the beauty of the admissions essay; It allows colleges to see the side of a student that a transcript doesn’t.

Probably the best advice you can give a student when writing a college admissions essay is to be unique; only write about experiences that he or she could have had. This is important because it sets them apart from the crowd and is more likely to incite passion in what they write. As a teacher, I think I speak for all of us when I say  the indifference is apparent in a student’s writing when he or she doesn’t care about the topic. To summarize: Have students write about events unique to them that display their potential and capability to succeed in higher education.

3. Analyze essays that worked.
Once your students have an understanding of what colleges want to read, you can move on to examples of successful college admissions essays and analyze what made them effective. A lot of universities will gladly offer examples of successful essays. While reading through the examples provided by John Hopkins University, I was charmed by how unique and creative they all were. One man wrote his essay in the form of the game 20 Questions while a woman wrote about her perception problems due to having a glass eye which transitioned to a story about how her perception of the swastika changed after living with a foster family in India. Aside from being attention grabbers, these essays were effective because I felt like I came to know the writers as well as understand what would make them successful students.

4. Revision
For anyone who has been through the drudgery of a job hunt, you know what I mean when I say that college admissions officers treat admissions essays a lot like how recruiters treat resumes - they’re looking for any excuse to toss one out. Admissions officers receive thousands of essays each cycle and have a relatively short amount of time to read them. As such, they look for any reason to quickly narrow down their search. This means they will not hesitate to toss out an essay that has minor errors, is formatted wrong, or is written in an irregular font, regardless of how good the content is. That is why revision of their essays is so important!

Have students print out the college’s essay guidelines and make sure they are following them to the letter. It might even be worth a class to have the students highlight and annotate the guidelines in regards to font, word count, and structure as a homework assignment. Have them edit, re-edit, and then have someone they trust also edit for them, looking for both grammatical, factual, and structural errors. If the essay prompt is a specific question, comb the essay thoroughly to make sure everything in the essay builds up to answering that question without any tangents. Use natural vocabulary, not words you would expect to find in the SATs. Use action verbs and avoid “to be” verbs like “was.”

If your students find your revisions excessive, remind them that a few extra hours of editing is worth it to ensure their all their hard work doesn’t end up at the bottom of the recycling bin.