Friday, December 14, 2012

Quotations, Paraphrasing, Summarizing, and MLA source formatting



It's my least favorite time of the curriculum...research. I personally don't mind doing research but trying to teach the process to students is so time-consuming and tedious. But, with the new Common Core focus on argumentative writing, we have got to focus on it more. Plus, it's a skill they will use in all the years of schooling that follow.

I'm all about making the Interactive Notebook pages creative which makes them more likely to be used. I also firmly believe that the more modalities you have students use when learning something, the more likely they are to remember it. So, I've pulled out the colored pencils and markers and encouraged them to have fun designing the pages.

NOTE: Our district has adopted MLA formatting as the standard for all classes. Everything I post on this subject will be in accordance with the latest MLA standards.

I started with a reminder of what is considered FICTION versus NON-FICTION:

I reviewed our school's plagiarism policy to remind them of the consequences here as well as explained the consequences if caught in college/university. I stress this over, and over, and OVER again throughout the year! (The most hateful part of my job involves cheating and/or plagiarism!!)

Then we created a page for using quotations in an essay:

The next day, we discussed paraphrasing: 

and summarizing:

I then showed them the Incredible Shrinking Notes concept of taking a piece of material, taking notes on it in the top box, deleting the lesser important items for the middle box, and then 2-3 MOST IMPORTANT statements in the smallest box. It helps give them a visual of how to pick out the most important information. I also stress using bulleted lists with sentence fragments when taking notes. This helps with making sure they aren't copying information word-for-word which leads to plagiarism.

Then we created a reference page for "MLA Format for Parentetical Documentation." This is hard for them to grasp so having a resource to refer back to always helps.

The following two pages are the basic types of sources they will be using as they research and how to create the Works Cited page. My own daughters, who are in college, still refer to this as a guide for Works Cited pages. I update it as MLA standards change. 

Then, we practiced as a group how to cite an article they had summarized the other day. I had them walk me through the citation but made corrections as needed. Next week, they will create a Works Cited page from a variety of sources I provide. It takes time but it really helps them get the hang of it.





Thursday, December 6, 2012


I just have to share the most amazing experience. Long story short...I met and have become great friends with author Jason Wright. It all started in November 2007 when he was touring our district promoting his little novel, Christmas Jars. We had him come speak to our 9th graders in a mini-assembly and the response was overwhelming! Over the years, we have emailed, texted, visited, held assemblies, etc. and become GREAT friends! Each year since that time, I've had at least two of my classes (totaling 60ish students per year) read Christmas Jars and have seen it change their lives. It's AMAZING!! my Honors English 8 students had the opportunity to Skype with him! I prepared them with an understanding of the novel, explained the basic premise of his other novels, and then had them write up questions they'd like to ask a New York Times best-selling author. Today, I took them on an "In-house Field Trip" (pulled them out of a couple of classes) and we Skyped for 90+ minutes. It was hilarious and very touching to hear some of their own personal experiences with his other books as well as ask for advice on how to be better writers. I am so grateful to those who are willing to share their time and talents to help our young people!!


It's been a while since I've updated my posts. It's crazy how busy this year has become!

My Honors English 8 classes have just finished reading The Outsiders in class and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as their assigned "at-home" reading. We've had some AMAZING discussions about both books and made terrific text-to-self connections. I'm astounded at how insightful these kids are! :)

In one of the lesson plan packages I purchased from Secondary Solutions, I found an explanation of the literary genre, Bildungsroman. Both novels fit the genre criteria of being a "coming of age" novel. So...for their Interactive Notebooks, I created a half page header they could cut out and glue in which gives the definition of the genre and the four points of criteria a novel must meet in order to fit. We then had a class discussion where we outlined the characteristics of Ponyboy (The Outsiders' protagonist) and Cassie (Roll of Thunder's protagonist) at the beginning of the novel and the end. I wrote their descriptions on the board. Then, I had them divide the bottom half of the page in half again vertically and write a paragraph explaining how each of the novels (one per side) fits the Bildungsroman criteria. It was really powerful! They saw how the experiences the characters went through over a period of time helped to mature and develop them.

(NOTE: My 9th graders have finished The Wednesday Wars; we did the same thing with Holling on the full bottom half of their page.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012


When I attended the Pre-Ap Conference this summer, we were taught various ways to help students interact and understand the authors' tone, theme, etc. One of these exercises was called "DIDLS" (Diction, Images, Details, Language, Sentence Structure). I worked with them on a passage from The Wednesday Wars last week and it went SO WELL!! They got it!!

Gary D. Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, and many others has an incredible way of writing which makes you feel like you're part of the story not only as an observer but as a character! He is AMAZING!! I had the students read the following passage from page 23 of The Wednesday Wars:

“Then Mrs. Baker and I sat. Alone. Facing each other. The classroom clock clicked off the minutes. She was probably considering what she could legally do to remind me how regrettable it was that my family was Presbyterian.”


Based on the “DIDLS” formula, how is this passage effective to create additional meaning?
  • He used sentence fragments to emphasize meaning/emotion.
  • He used sensory details.
  • He explained the situation well enough we could all think of a similar situation we'd experienced! 
Using this method, describe a situation where you may have felt the same way as Holling with Mrs. Baker.

Then, this week, I had them create a page in the Interactive Notebooks to help them remember the steps for "DIDLS." We'll review this throughout the year as we study other authors and text. It's the same format as the one we did on PLOT

(Definitions for each section were taken from The College Board Pre-AP: The AP Vertical Teams Guide for English textbook we received at the conference. BTW...GREAT resource!)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Character Types

As we read our novels, we've been learning about different types of characters. I want them to understand the importance of these details so they are able to understand how an author uses characterization to create a story. As we went through this page creation, I had them tell me which characters in our novels (The Wednesday Wars, The Outsiders, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry) would fit the different character types. It was so exciting when they "got it!" :)

My "Character Types" Anchor Chart.

As they were ready for each description, I folded back the tab for them to copy what was underneath. 
Source of definitions HERE.

What it looked like in their notebook...

...with the definitions.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I love teaching the Elements of Literature! I think it's vital to students understanding what it takes to make a good story (long or short) so they are able to add it to their own stories. Today we expanded from Monday's foldable for PLOT. See the EofLit foldable.

We created a page for the basic steps of PLOT:
  • PLOT: sequence of events, cause/effect, conflict, relationships. *the storyline*
  1. EXPOSITION: meet the characters; learn about the setting (time & place; where/when); conflict/problem is introduced
  2. RISING ACTION: conflict(s) develop; suspense builds
  3. CLIMAX: turning point; character faces conflict; main character's attitude changes
  4. FALLING ACTION: loose ends are tied up; conflict(s) are being solved
  5. RESOLUTION: reasonable ending; conflict is "resolved" (taken care of
Using the idea for Dinah Zike's "Layered Notebook Foldable, I created a 4"x6" box with a 1/2" border at the top. I was able to fit two on each page then photo-copied them onto six different colors (I chose "fall" can choose anything!). Each page supplied two students with boxes; I had them cut them out on the solid black lines. Then, I had them write the above terms and definitions on their papers (one on each paper for a total of six.) NOTE: I created an "Anchor Chart" of the basic page and had that on my whiteboard. I made copies of each page on an 8-1/2"x11" sheet of paper in the colors I wanted them to use and showed them how to layer them using magnets. I LOVED the Anchor Chart idea! {it was fun writing REALLY big! :) }Then we glued them in the Interactive Notebook, dated and titled it, then added it to the Table of Contents. All in all, I'd say it went well. It took about 30 minutes to complete (less if they focuses...more if they talked...). 

Anchor Chart and notes at the beginning of class.

What it looked like by the end of class.

Sample in the Interactive Notebook.

Sample page layout.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Elements of Literature

I used a combination of ideas from "The Mouth," Dinah Zike's Foldables, and my own experience to create the foldables which cover Elements of Literature. I had the luxury of using a color printer and Word clip-art to create mine; I gave the students a copy of the two pages and gave them instructions to cut them out, fold the edges, glue the outside edges in the notebook, cut up the center line as well as the two horizontal lines (making sure they don't cut into the solid horizontal line). Then, they drew pictures (I let them copy mine) and colored them...illustrations and coloring are MANDATORY! That took one day...

 After they are cut, you'll have four little windows/doors. I created anchor charts on 11" x 17" paper of what should be written under the windows/doors. I taped the anchor charts up around the room and had them move from chart to chart writing the information. (NOTE: I tried to upload a PDF of these documents but couldn't figure out how...:( ) of Contents. You know the drill...

UPDATE: After some research, I think I've figured out how to upload a PDF of the files! Click on the links below:
Elements of Literature foldables
Elements of Literature Anchor Chart

Reference Pages

I have my students proofread others' papers throughout the year using Proofreading Marks. I created this chart years ago with the basics. Again, I printed it out with a page border for them to cut around. Then they slapped at into their notebooks, titled and dated it, then entered it into the Table of Contents.

In one of the AP classes I attended this summer, we talked about reading expository/informational text and interacting with it. We were given a handout showing different ways to annotate texts; I thought it was really handy and a great reference tool for our Interactive Notebooks!

The link listed at the bottom of this handout out can be found HERE. If you can't find it there, I'd suggest searching with the title of the handout. 

Year-long Theme: HEROES

I'm sure most schools across the country are experiencing the same problems with bullying we are here in Utah. I. HATE. IT!! I've seen kids in tears because of something that was said to them in the halls, in a text or note, on Facebook, etc. I've even known some of these kids to attempt or commit suicide because of it. It breaks my heart!!

So...I decided I want to have a "Year-long Theme" of HEROES! I'm not into the whole "SUPER-HERO" thing like some teachers in my school are...

I prefer to look at a "HERO" as a normal, everyday kind of person like I am! I believe 
I believe this is accomplished by doing something small which can mean the world to someone in a time of need:
  • Say "HI!"
  • Help pick up a notebook that's been dropped
  • Sit with someone who is alone at the lunch table
  • Open a door
  • Loan someone a pencil
  • Buy someone's lunch
  • etc.
The possibilities are ENDLESS!!! 

So...for the introduction to the theme, I created a guide which each student glued onto pages 10 & 11. I created it in a Word document with a table...four columns. Each sheet of paper served two students. They cut out the strips, glued them in, then answered the questions during my instruction. It was COOL!!!

We'll be referring to this throughout the year.

MLA Format

Our English department teaches the MLA format for written and computer-generated documents. I wanted them to have a resource for this format so I don't have to tell them every single time we do an assignment! 9 becomes that visual.

I have an obsession with Post-it notes! (My daughter thinks I should be admitted to a rehab center of some sort!) So, mine has Post-it notes I cut down to the desired size and stuck in my example. I had the kids pretend they had Post-its (some actually had some in their binders...) and write the important information.

Don't forget to date the day it's done, title it, and put it in the Table of Contents.

NOTE: I found this as an "Anchor Chart" on Pintrest. Not positive where I got it but I sure loved it! Thank you Pintrest!! :)

Day 1: Set-up

Armed with my trusty document projector and a PowerPoint presentation I worked up to explain the whys, hows, etc. of Interactive Notebooks, we started to set them up. One thing I keep stressing, and stressing, and STRESSING is that they
At the first of the year, and several times throughout, I go over the "don't cheat," "don't copy," "don't plagiarize" speech. However, I've told them this is not only the one time I allow them to copy, I make it mandatory! 
Everyone's notebook must look exactly like mine as far as pages,
 information, etc. unless otherwise indicated. 
At first, they look at me like I've lost my mind but then they get over it and feel comfortable with the guidance and examples I give them. 

One of the things I loved about "The Mouth's" notebooks were you start at the first and work through page-by-page. Now, I'm not going to lie and tell you mine have been perfectly done every single time. I'd love to be able to do that but I cannot tell a lie! :) In fact, I've started and re-started about four notebooks. I'm down to one for my 8th grade classes and one for 9th grade. The others that got "messed up" are my TRIAL-AND-ERROR notebooks where I try the layout and then perfect it before it goes into my final books. "The Mouth" suggested keeping one for every period...I couldn't keep up with that! Two has been fine for me so far...

Number each page in the upper, outside corner. Even numbers on the left page; odd numbers on the right page. I had them number 1-25 or so in class with homework to number the rest. They should have 200 pages when they're finished providing they didn't get ripped off by the notebook company.

Title pages 1-7 as "TABLE OF CONTENTS." I did the Math and figured out we would use six to seven pages for our Table of Contents. I rounded up to seven just to be safe. I also told them to be as "cutsy-fartsy" as they wanted. (They thought it was funny I said "fartsy" in class. REALLY??)

As we add each page(s), we enter it into the Table of Contents. 

Glue in "Who Are YOU??" assignment from the first day of school. We'll come back to this at the end of the term for Goal Reflection and will enter a new one at the beginning of each term. Have them date it with the day you put it in the notebook and enter it in the Table of Contents.

NOTE #1: As I created handouts to be glued into the Interactive Notebooks, I created a border around the page for them to cut on. I'm a bit OCD in making sure things are lined up and don't cover the holes so they can put them back in their English binder (in my minor is Business/Marketing Education so I know computers and I was the Yearbook advisor for four years! I'm all about making things look neat and orderly!!). I have them cut out on those borders which I've adjusted to make sure it fits in the notebook.

NOTE #2: As I talked to them about putting glue on the pages, I really tried to stress they should just glue around the outside edges of the paper they're gluing IN the notebook...not the notebook itself. However, I've already had MANY who thought the entire paper should be covered with purple glue and then some. I guess that's why I needed to replace glue sticks within the first few days! Can't afford that!! :(

Interactive Notebooks 101

As I've mentioned before, I researched a lot of different sites to get ideas on how to run my Interactive Notebooks. On many sites, I found teachers had one side for notes they gave the students with the corresponding (facing) side for student reflection. I struggled to wrap my brain around that. Then I came upon TheMiddleSchoolMouth blog and the light bulb on and sirens went off!!! Bless his dear sweet heart, I could relate to this teacher and how he ran his. Even better...he gave me LOTS of pictures to look at to actually see what he was doing. WAHOO!!!!

So...armed with his wonderful examples, I started putting together my requirements and what I would provide:
  1. Each student MUST have a spiral notebook with the following specifications:
    • Acetate cover (they last MUCH longer than paper ones!)
    • One subject
    • 100 sheets
    • College-ruled paper
    • 2-pockets inside
  2. Glue stick(s)
  3. Colored pencils
NOTE: I found these notebooks at WalMart ($1.97) and Target (on sale for a couple of weeks at $1.00 each!!) before school started. I bought 20 to have on hand in case students couldn't afford them (had about 3 of those...) or bought the wrong size/style notebook (had a lot of those) or who just plain didn't want to go to the store. I had them pay me $2.00 each (unless they honestly couldn't afford it). Within two days, I had to go buy more! They called me the "WalMart Extension!" :)


Before school started, my AWESOME daughter-in-law shopped the ads for  me and found super fabulous deals on school supplies (like the notebooks) so I wouldn't go into debt buying basics to have on every desk. I got little pencil boxes and equipped them with pencils, pens, erasers, WhiteOut, scissors, and a couple of glue sticks. I have colored pencils, Crayola markers, and rulers in a cupboard for use; they just wouldn't fit in the boxes. Unfortunately, even with a LOT of instruction on gluing and not needing to use the entire tube on one paper, I've already had to replace many of the glue sticks. Since I can't afford to replace them every few days, I've told them they are going to have to supply their own! Mine will be used for emergencies only! (We'll see how that goes...)

Pencil box on each table...I created one for me as well.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I discovered Interactive Notebooks!!

I swore I would NEVER become addicted to Pintrest. I thought it was a great way to organize writing prompt pictures and used it that way toward the end of last year. Somewhere throughout the summer, I started looking at it a little more...then a little more...then a LOT more! I saw "pins" by my cute niece who teaches 2nd grade about things called "Anchor Charts" and other ideas. I started "pinning" some of them and before I knew it...I had a bunch on my "School Board!" Of course, once you start something like this, it leads to you other places, ideas, and you just get overwhelmed!!

Well...I found this FABULOUS pin/idea/link/site/whatever you want to call it called an "Interactive Notebook." I searched and searched getting more and more information about them and then stumbled across a blog posted by a middle school English/Social Studies teacher somewhere back east. First of all, he (yes..he...a male teach who blogs! Who knew!!) was fun to imagine talking via the blog and then he had AWESOME pictures to give me a visual of what he did in his class. (You can learn more about him/follow him/whatever HERE...)

I pinned.
I read.
I pinned some more.
I printed out his pages.
I blew up his photos.
I commented on his blog (and he commented back!!).

And then I started trying to figure out how to do it myself. 

After going through endless trial and error (I am quite OCD about how my handouts/worksheets/examples look and had to make sure everything was "just so..." before I could teach it.) and many notebooks, I've started working on them in with my classes!

I. LOVE. THEM!!!!!

I've had GREAT response from my 8th and 9th graders so far...granted it's only been a week...but I'm optimistic! So...with this blog, I'm hoping to journal/chronicle our experiences (good and bad) with them and what I would do differently next time. 

Stay tuned...

New Adventures in Teaching English Classes

This year, our district is mandating Honors classes in the four core areas: English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, and Math. These classes, as well as all others, are to use the Common Core Standards our state has adopted. (To learn more about the Common Core, click HERE.)  I've taught 9th grade Honors before without any support from the district...I was just supposed to make it "harder and more rigorous" for them. It lasted a couple of years before I burned out.

We have already received a lot of support from the district; however, a lot of their expectations are going to be hard to meet because of logistics in computer labs, availability of materials (and/or the money to acquire them...), parental support, etc. Also, the classes are to be "Self-Select" which means ANYONE can sign up for them regardless of their abilities. For the most part, my 8th Grade Honors English class has been FABULOUS!! They are so cute and eager to learn and please! I've had a talk with a couple of kids and given them some expectations...we'll see what happens.

For my 9th graders, I have found some new ways to teach the standards as well as adding some of the lessons I've received through honors training. So far (only 8 days), I'm having a blast and the kids are LOVING it!!

Here's to hoping this trend continues!! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Adventures...

Another school year has begun! This is my 11th (and a half) year teaching and the10th at this school. In some ways it feels like FOREVER and other ways, I feel like it's all a new experience. I guess it is in a way...every year there are new kids, new teachers, and new curriculum. I think that's part of the appeal to teaching English...there's always changes in the expectations of what we should teach our students and certainly new ways to do it. This year, I've decided to tackle several very new (new to me) ideas and methods and see how it goes. My plan is to use this blog to document what I do, how it works, and what changes I'd make, or keep the same, if I were to do it again. Along the way, I'd like to think I can help other teachers as I go...

Wish me luck!!