Inquiry

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?

Digging into Dialogue Writing Skills—Exploring Dialogue Tags

Earlier this month, I used resources from the beloved late Dr. Rozlyn Linder to help my students inquire into noticings about the purposes and patterns of dialogue tags.  I crafted a guided study lesson and resources from her book, The Big Book of Details: 46 Moves for Teaching Writers to Elaborate, to help us explore beginning, ending, middle, and invisible tags for our first major assignment, an extended narrative writing task (more about this task in my next blog post).

Learning Targets

We started with this guided mini-lesson that I adapted from Dr. Linder’s book:

For Part 1, students wrote their responses, and then we did a whole class share out; I recorded the responses for each class and then compiled them into a master document for students to keep in their notebooks in a sheet protector (I provide those to students).

We also explored how repeating “said” or any variant of it deadens our writing instead of bringing it to life.  Students received a list of synonyms to keep handy in their binders for reference.

We then delved into reviewing each type of dialogue tag, recording and discussing our notices about when we might use each type of tag, punctuation, and capitalization; students were asked to circle their noticings and jot down notes.

Then, depending on the class section and their needs as learners, we did one or more of the following activities over 2.5 class days:

Over the next few days, I crafted assorted warm-up activities for the beginning of class to reinforce and review those rules of punctuation and capitalization for students.  In addition, students took an open-note quiz in Canvas over punctuating and capitalization different types of dialogue tags.  Last but not least, I provided additional practice for mastery with a free module in NoRedInk.

Note:  to view these documents properly, you will need these free fonts:

While these learning structures were a solid entry point for students, they needed and continued to need reinforcement and practice as they crafted their own original dialogue tags in their extended narrative assignment.  Placement of punctuation and remembering to punctuate the dialogue as well as the dialogue tags at all have been our two major areas of struggle.  After seeing these struggles, I am confident that students’ difficulty in punctuating dialogue correctly is where many of them are losing points on our state Milestones test we take each spring, particularly with the extended narrative writing task, a writing task that is worth 4 points:

On the ELA EOG assessment, an extended constructed-response item elicits a longer, more complex and detailed response from the student. The four-point narrative extended constructed-response item requires the student to write a narrative in response to a prompt based on a literary or informational passage he or she has read;
the response will fully develop a real or imagined experience based on the text and will be scored for the Writing and Language domain.

Source:  Georgia Grade 8 EOG Item and Scoring Sampler 

A student who achieves a score of 4 demonstrates these skills on an extended narrative writing task:

  • The student’s response is a well-developed narrative that fully develops a real or imagined experience based on text as a stimulus.
  • Effectively establishes a situation and a point of view and introduces a narrator and/or characters.
  • Organizes an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Effectively uses narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, pacing, and reflection, to develop rich, interesting experiences, events, and/or characters.
  • Uses a variety of words and phrases consistently and effectively to convey the sequence of events, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events.
  • Uses precise words, phrases, and sensory language to convey experiences and events and capture the action.
  • Provides a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
  • Integrates ideas and details from source material effectively.
  • Has very few or no errors in usage and/or conventions that interfere with meaning.

Even though our focus is on composing strong dialogue, this standard 8W3 goes hand in hand with a distinguished (highest level) of achievement in Standard RL3:

Analyzes and evaluates the effectiveness of an author’s use of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama to propel the action, reveal complex aspects of the character, or provoke a decision.

Source:  Georgia Milestones Assessment System Achievement Level Descriptors for Grade 8 English Language Arts

In my next post, I’ll share more about our extended narrative writing assignment and how we are working through our drafting and revision endeavors.  How do you teach the importance of dialogue to your students?  What are your best strategies for helping them understand the rules of punctuating and capitalizing dialogue and dialogue tags appropriately?

Getting Ready for a Short Story with Pre-Reading Learning Stations

As you know, I love trying new learning activities and strategies.  I’m teaching a formal short story unit this year for the first time in years, and I wanted to do something fun and meaningful to kick off our first whole class story study.  This summer I purchased this bundle of awesome activities from “Write on with Ms. G” on Teachers Pay Teachers, and decided to modify the template for the “Pre Reading Learning Stations for ANY Novel: Engage students before reading!” for our first mentor text, “Raymond’s Run.”

The original plan calls for the stations to be completed as timed rotations, and I think high school students, especially those in an accelerated section of Language Arts, could  complete the stations in a 60 time period; if you are on a block schedule with a longer class session of 70-90 minutes, you could definitely complete the pre-reading stations in one class session.  I tried this method with my 1st period class and even provided a structured work session at each station giving them 3-4 minutes for quiet thinking/jot your notes time and 3/4 minutes of conversation time.  However, I could see my 8th graders needed more time to process the the task presented at each station, so I made some modifications:

  1. Modification 1:  Modify station notes to be more structured for 8th graders.  I took the thinking prompts from the station task card and added language to their note-taking tickets to help them think and write down their ideas for each question prompt.

2. Modification 2:  Break station work into two class periods.  For the remaining three classes, students began at their assigned table area and then visited the  remaining five stations in any order.  Day 1 was devoted to them doing their quiet silent thinking and notetaking.

As it turned out, we actually needed 1.5 to 2 days of class time to do the quiet thinking and notetaking work.  Students who finished early could work on Membean, an awesome vocabulary resource provided by our district, or they could read their library books.  When students finished all six stations on Day 2, they had the chance to take a sticky note and indicate their top three stations they felt represented their strongest work and that they would feel comfortable discussing in a small group and sharing out with the whole class.  I used this information to form Table Talk groups for each station on the following day.

We used the first half of class on Day 3 to do our Table Talks; group assignments by table/station were posted on a Google Slide as students arrived.  Depending on the class, I used either a “3-2-1” reflection structure or each person was asked to share his/her responses and then choose their “best thinking” they wanted to share aloud to the entire class.  While these reflection structures sound simple, they are big steps forward early in the year for 8th graders, especially for those not used to interacting in small groups or speaking in front of their peers even from a seated table area.  I did appoint “table captains” to kick off discussions in the small group share as well as the whole group share to help facilitate table talk in a timely way.  I am happy to report all classes did a terrific job with their discussion and sharing tasks!

The pre-reading stations included:

  • Station 1:  Anticipation Guide Statements and Discussion
  • Station 2:  Inferring Character Traits Based on Two Passages from the Story
  • Station 3:  Inferring Setting
  • Station 4:  Excerpt Analysis
  • Station 5:  Making Predictions Based on the Story Title and a Photo
  • Station 6:  Identifying Similes and Their Importance to the Story

 

Though the stations took more time than I planned (the story of my life!), I think pre-reading stations are a worthwhile investment at the beginning of a unit, for an extended study of a text, or with a challenging text.  What kinds of pre-reading activities do you like to do with students to get them ready for a short story or novel?

Immersing Ourselves in Poems with a POETRY FLOOD

Last Wednesday and Thursday, my students engaged in a “poetry flood”, a gallery walk designed to give students to immerse themselves in 50 different poems.  The activity design was fairly simple:

  1.  I chose close to 50 unique poems of varying styles, poets, topics, and time periods for students to browse and read.
  2.  During the poetry flood, students walked about quietly and read poems.  As they came across ones of interest that they liked or enjoyed or thought would be a good choice for their poetry project, they jotted down the poem title and author.  I do play soft music through the overhead projector/ceiling speakers during the gallery walk; this selection is one of my favs for the 2018-19 school year!
  3. Students could revisit and re-read the poems at any time, including the online voting.
  4. The activity took two class periods; our first day was a bit short since we were on a modified afternoon schedule due to state testing.  We completed the flood on Day 2 and did our online voting so that I could have time to compile the responses and have enough copies of the poems for each student in each class.
  5. Once they completed their reading (roughly 20-25 minutes for most), they went online to a Google Form in our Canvas course and voted for their top three poem choices and explained each choice.  They also voted for whether they wanted to do a FSLL poster or Sketchnoted Poetry Analysis for their project; we reviewed project options and requirements Wednesday and Thursday.  Students turned in the hard copy of their “poetry flood” notetaking/jot sheet form once they finished voting.  You can see a breakdown of project choices below.

5.  Note:  I definitely recommend using Google Forms to collect student votes so you can download responses into a spreadsheet and quickly sort the top choices and give students one of their top three choices while avoiding replication of poems within a class period for project work.  Click here to see a PDF version of my form.  I actually downloaded one master spreadsheet and then did some cut/paste to separate into my four different class sections to make voting easier.

Below are videos and photos to help you see our poetry flood unfolded over two days:

{Note:  please pardon the mess with items covered up to preserve our testing environment in my classroom last week and the week before!}

With the exception of my first period class (I did not get to see them Thursday because of our testing schedule, so they picked up on Friday with completing the poetry flood), my other three classes received their poems on Friday.  I made copies on neon paper, and we spent most of the period annotating the poems.  Each student was required to do five high quality annotations and could use their poetry terms and FSLL question stems (install this font for the download to format correctly) to nudge their thinking.

Once they finished the first round of annotations, students showed me their work and we conferenced for next steps to polish or finalize their annotations.  Most needed a 2nd pass at going beyond some connecting and summarizing of stanzas and a little coaching to help them focus on some literary or poetic elements.   In addition, I encouraged some students to further elaborate on their notes if that was needed.  The majority of students responded really well to the conferences and set about their work in a positive and earnest manner.  I was quite impressed with their efforts, especially with the final product after our annotation conferences.

Those who finished their annotation work a little early used scratch paper to begin planning a mockup and notes for their project.  We’ll actually craft the posters on Thursday and Friday of this week.

Given our limitations of time with the two week state testing session that just ended plus end of the year events, I feel these activities are a meaningful way to give my students a personal and positive experience with poetry at the end of the year.  What kinds of activities do you like to do to immerse students in poetry?  What are your favorite poetry projects, especially when time is short?

“Milestones Mania and More!” Station Rotations and Review

Springtime in Georgia brings abundant pollen, April showers, restless middle school learners, and the state end of year Milestones testing.  This year I decided to craft “work at your own pace” station rotations that emphasized the three types of writing prompts students would see plus some additional stations to support our study of poetry and independent choice nonfiction book reading.  In addition to sample writing prompts and exemplars to examine at each station, students also had the opportunity to practice some of the sample multiple choice items.  Using state released materials, I crafted stations to help my students unpack constructed responses (2 points each of varying DOK levels but primarily Level 3 and 4), extended constructed responses (on our assessment, this is always a 4 point narrative writing prompt), and extended essay, a 7 point essay that is always argumentative or informational in nature.  Below is a tour of the stations to give you an idea of what students  explored at each station:

Because of time limitations, I did not ask students to complete any of the writing prompts, but every station asked students to consider these common questions:

  • What is the writing prompt asking you to do?
  • How might you go about tackling this kind of writing prompt?
  • What strategies might you use to plan for this prompt?
  • What qualities do you notice in the exemplar responses?  What did the writer do well?
  • How is the exemplar response different from the ones that did not get full credit?

Because of our testing schedule and adjustments needed to make those days work, not every class period has been meeting for the exact same number of minutes.   However, all classes had approximately 7 class days to work through as many of the stations as they could.  Students budgeted roughly 10-20 minutes per station depending on the tasks at each station.

My original plan was to have table groups lead discussions for each station.  However, time constraints allowed me to do this with only class.  I still wanted to have some kind of whole group discussion or conversation around the stations but be able to complete it in two class sessions.  Last Wednesday evening, I quickly punted and crafted a multiple choice, fill in the blank, and short answer document that allowed us to review every station question as a point of discussion; the document was 11 pages and gave students something concrete to take home and review over the weekend.  For students who were absent or even those who were present but may have left their review document in their locker, a PDF of the document with an answer key was posted in our Canvas course for easy access.

Thought we started testing for Language Arts this past Monday and classes met in the afternoon for a shorter time than normal, I wanted to do one final pass that afternoon at reviewing prompts.  I designed another multiple choice style document that served as our warm-up and a final “look” at all types of writing prompts.  Students kept these and were able to take them home in their “spring learning” folders.

This is a somewhat different approach than I used with my juniors last year, but overall, I’m pleased with how students worked through the stations and even my “triage” solution to address the time shortage for review/whole group discussion around the station work.  In some ways, it may have been better for my 8th grade learners since they ended up having two hard copy resources to take home as a review/study tool to help them recognize the three different kind of prompts and to consider best ways to take on these kinds of prompts without sucking all their writing energy out of them prior to the actual state test.

I am definitely not an advocate of teaching to a test, but I do feel a responsibility to my students to help them be prepared for the language of the test, especially the writing tasks.  With the exception of the narrative writing tasks, we did many writing assignments that paralleled the constructed response tasks and essay writing tasks as part of our daily literacy learning; in addition, each of our three district benchmarks gave students additional opportunities to practice these writing tasks in a “test” setting.  Looking ahead to next year, I’m going to integrate more “timed” writings for these kinds of prompts and embed them as a part of the natural flow of units of study of literature and reading so that students will feel more comfortable by May with the prompts and completing them in a timed setting.