Author: Buffy J. Hamilton

I am a writing and Language Arts teacher who loves learning, literacy, stories, learning, dogs, poetry, fabulous shoes, and good lip gloss. I began my career as a high school English teacher in 1992 and then became a high school librarian and 2011 Library Journal Mover and Shaker before returning to the classroom in August 2016.

Revisiting and Exploring Tone in Nonfiction and Fiction

Last week, we engaged in some targeted mini-lessons and learning activities to grow our understanding of tone.  We had practiced analyzing tone earlier this fall, but since this is sometimes a challenging concept for 8th graders and because I knew they would have a constructed response about tone on their 2nd quarter benchmark, I designed a few strategic and new learning experiences around tone for my students.

Day 1

We first began by reviewing some notes on the differences between tone and mood.   In addition, we reviewed the differences between denotation and connotation and looked at examples of both.  Next, I assigned students picked a partner or trio group to do our table talk activity.  We began this activity by reading and watching this excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students were asked to work with their partner or trio to:

  1.  Identify the tone of the speech.
  2.  Identify specific word choices and/or phrases that created that tone.  Students also shared how the connotative or denotative meanings (or both) of their selected words impacted the tone of the speech.
  3. Groups shared out to the entire class their findings and reflections.

Day 2

The following day, students were asked to find a passage in their independent reading books OR to choose an alternate text I provided (a selection of poems or informational article).  Students then analyzed the tone, following the same procedure from the previous day.  I provided a thinking/drafting script for those who wanted to jot down their thoughts in writing first.  Students were asked to snap the passage they were analyzing and then post it in their Seesaw account.  Students could type a text book with their analysis, record an audio note of their analysis, or type a text note with their analysis.  They also labeled the word choices with highlights and/or arrows of the word choices they felt created the tone.  I provided a model I completed for them based on my reading of Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.  In addition, I provided a list of positive and negative tone words for students who were struggling to find the right word.

While this task may seem easy to us as adults, it really is challenging for many 8th graders.

Day 3

We did one more analysis activity of tone, but this time, students read an excerpt of an informational text I pulled from NewsELA.  I provided students a drafting template to help them compose a paragraph in which they analyzed the tone of the informational text excerpt.  This task was similar to the one on their benchmark.  Like the previous activity, I provided an optional list of negative and positive tone words for those who needed/wanted it.  For one of my classes, I gave the students of reading the excerpt alone; my 4th period class voted to partner read aloud the excerpt and discuss it before tackling the writing task.

Additional Learning Fun with Gimkit

Depending on the pace of completion, at some points over four days students had an opportunity to play a Gimkit game on tone.  As I shared in my previous blog post, I was able to see strengths and weaknesses in understanding of this concept as my kit included many “application” types of questions.


Overall, I felt these learning activities challenged my students and pushed their critical thinking/analysis skills in a variety of ways.  What are your favorite strategies for teaching tone to middle or high school students?

I Scream, You Scream, The Students All Scream for Gimkit!

Have you tried the hottest learning tool in the edtech universe, Gimkit?  Fellow Language Arts teacher Jeanne Rountree first put this technology on my radar during preplanning in August, but I didn’t actually try it with my students until November.  According to Gimkit’s creator, high school student Josh Feinsilber, Gimkit is:

“…a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy to win.  Students answer questions on their own device at their own pace. Throughout a Kit, each student will get exposure to the questions multiple times to ensure mastery.  I built Gimkit to be the game I wanted to play in class! While working on Gimkit I developed a passion for making learning memorable. I graduated in June, 2019 and kept working on Gimkit because of the positive impact I know it can have for teachers and students.”

In addition to generating an insane amount of energy and excitement about learning, Gimkit has these additional awesome features:

I like that Gimkit can be used in many ways in the classroom for a live learning activity or as a homework/independent learning assignment; I think it would be fun to use the assignment features on a station rotation day.  In addition, Gimkit features a help center for educators.

I tried Gimkit as a way of creating a fun and engaging review of some of the short stories we had read in early November.  I thought my students were going to lose their minds (in a good way) when I announced we were playing a review game for those stories in Gimkit and that we would be in team mode.

 

While the game was tremendous fun, the data from the game also helped me to see gaps in understanding that we could tackle the following day in class.

I was so impressed by the student response to the game that I purchase a year’s subscription to get the extra features and unlimited kits.   It takes a LOT these days for any technology to impress me, so for me to invest in a professional subscription says volumes.

Last week, we spent several days doing a variety of learning activities on tone (blog post coming soon on that topic).  I created a kit on tone with a variety of difficulty in the questions, and students very much enjoyed the holiday theme and music that are available this month in live games.

 

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to try the free version yourself.  Here are some awesome blog posts and online reviews that will also give you ideas on how and why to use Gimkit!

A Unique Twist on Formative Assessment: “Give Me All You Got!”

At the end of November, I stumbled upon this great idea from English teacher Kelly Culp:

The basic premise is that students do a “brain dump” of sorts about a specific reading and share everything they know about it with you through text and images.   I decided to utilize this strategize to do a formative assessment with student independent reading about 10 days ago after giving students a day of reading time in class.  Here is my version (you can make a copy of the Word document):

Students jumped in and began working hard on the task right away:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Below are some of the finished products:

As you can see, many students were creative in how they shared their understandings and what information they felt was most important as well as questions, connections, and ideas they were thinking about related to the text.  Several also incorporated their TQE thinking from their TQE annotations the previous day.  What I love about this form of assessment is the variety of responses and the built in choice factor for the assessment.  It can also be used with a wide range of tasks, including an assigned reading.  You can also adapt and use this across multiple grades in middle and high school; I think it would also be adaptable for upper elementary.  In addition, I think teachers and librarians could even modify this to assess students’ understanding of an article they are reading for research.  I am indebted to teacher Kelly Culp for sharing this idea on Twitter and inspiring my classroom practice.

In addition to this task, students also had time to complete this activity as well.  Many students liked the “chunked” aspect of this learning task for their reading they completed in class December 5 and at home that evening.  I highly recommend this resource for assessing assigned or independent reading.

 

 

Annotating for Active Reading: Post-It Notes and File Folders

This fall my 8th graders have practiced Notice and Note annotation strategies as well as those from Cris Tovani.  I have not required my 8th graders to annotate their independent reading, but earlier this month, I felt annotating their reading for an in-class reading day would be beneficial for my students.  I also felt this might be a gentle way of starting to scaffold their annotating for TQE discussions that we’ll do in January 2020.   I created mini-versions of notes/handouts I had already given the students and condensed them to “marry” them to a TQE framework, integrating our existing annotation strategies as well as Beers and Probst’s “3 Big Questions.”  Here is the result:

You can make a copy of these handouts I created here:

Because I had lost my voice due to an upper respiratory infection, I had students engage in a quick partner reading of the instructions.  Pairs then summarized the instructions and what they needed to do during their independent reading time.  I then shared a completed model I did over Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.

Students were asked to complete 6 annotations:  two “thoughts”, two “questions”, and two “epiphanies”.   I provided a basket of Post-It notes in varying colors, sizes, and styles at every table area for students to use.  In addition, I gave every student a file folder with his/her name on it to place their sticky notes.  When students finished annotating at the end of the period, they organized and placed their notes in the folder to turn in to me.  The folder system is something I am trying so that I can grade annotation work with Post-Its but not have to collect a zillion bulky composition books.  When the folders are returned to students, they get a scored rubric of their work and can transfer the Post-It notes to their course binder.

I found this to be an easy way to nudge students to read a little more actively but not overwhelm them with the act of annotating.  We’ll use this system of collecting and sharing annotations when we begin our literary nonfiction and memoir book clubs in January as well as with our independent reading next semester.  I feel like the folders (which I keep once the students remove their work) are a simple but easy to use vehicle for collecting and checking the annotation as a formative assessment.  You can make a copy of the rubric I created by clicking here.

How do you encourage active reading and annotating in a meaningful and manageable way?

Powerful Practice: Read Aloud Reading Partners with Informational Text

One of the simplest but most powerful practices this fall has been read aloud reading partners.  I love the learning structure because it’s so versatile and can be used in multiple ways.

On a simple level, I used it last week when I lost my voice and needed students to review instructions for an annotation activity we were going to do in class that day.  I had students choose a partner and review the instructions together.  Then pairs summarized what they were to do with the learning task for that day.  They definitely internalized and understood the instructions much better than if I had just read them aloud and they had been passive receivers of those instructions!


Yesterday we did a learning activity to help students review a simple strategy to read strategically and find their textual evidence for an upcoming timed essay they will do on our second district benchmark assessment next week.  The task asks students to read two paired texts and then compose an expository or informational essay of some sort about those texts.

I pulled a set of paired texts through GALILEO, our state digital library; the paired texts are from the December 2019 issue of Scholastic Scope (citation at the end of this article):

I used a Sharpie to “chunk” and number sections of the articles to read before making a class set  to use.  I find that chunking and numbering sections helps the partner reading flow a little more efficiently since students can clearly see a section at a time.   I also created this hypothetical writing task:

Once students arrived to class, we followed these procedures:

  1.  Students selected a reading partner of his/her choice and sat either knee to knee, face to face OR side by side.  If we had an odd number of student, I did allow trios.
  2. Students took turns reading the passages aloud.  I gave the partners just one copy of the text for this activity to force them to listen a little more closely.
  3. Once students finished reading both articles, they raised their hands for the T-chart planning activity to do a treasure hunt for textual evidence that they would use in the essay prompt.

The last part of the activity was having groups share out their findings of the textual evidence and how we might organize that evidence into our hypothetical writing task.   We talked about how to use a T-chart to quickly note textual evidence/concrete details and then use them in our writing task on the assessment.  We then reviewed how we could use our paragraph writing structures we’ve practiced all fall with “two chunk” paragraphs ( we have practiced with scaffolded writing graphic organizers with sentence frames and sentence starters this fall) and how we might modify it for a timed writing setting of only 45 minutes.

I wanted to have students to read the paired texts aloud for a variety of reasons:

  1.  Students were forced to be more active readers and listeners and engage more closely with the text.
  2.  Students got an opportunity to practice their reading skills and speaking in a low-stakes setting.
  3.  Most students discussed each section as they read and took turns reading the “chunks” in both articles; they discussed with no prompting from me!  These short but important discussions are part of the meaning making process.

It was a jam packed class session but one I think that was successful and enjoyable for students, especially the Friday before our holiday break and on the eve of our district benchmark.   How do you incorporate read alouds or reading partners into your instruction with students?


Bartolomeo, Joey, and Jennifer Dignan. “Paired Texts.” Scholastic Scope, vol. 68, no. 4, Dec. 2019, pp. 16–21. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=139777318&site=eds-live&scope=site.