Common Lit

Annotations + Rhetorical Analysis + Document Camera= Learning with Joy and Relevance

Last week, my juniors read “Gettysburg Address” (Tuesday for A day classes; Wednesday for B day classes) and then Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”  (Thursday for A day classes and Friday for B day classes).  I paired the texts back to back so that students could analyze the use of rhetorical devices in each speech as well as the SOAPS (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and subject.  For “Gettysburg Address”, we watched a few short clips from the Ken Burns PBS series Civil War that gave students context of the speech as well as a professional reading of the speech.  We then engaged in rhetorical analysis using a copy of the speech from Common Lit with students annotating the text and marking rhetorical devices they saw in each paragraph.  We then did a large group share of our findings.

For “Ain’t I a Woman”, I began to think about how I could kick up our analysis work a few notches and build on thes strategies from Tuesday/Wednesday.  Again, I utilized Common Lit to provide my students a copy of the text that they could keep and annotate (note:  the version that appears as of this blog post publication is a different and shorter (original) version than the one that was available just a week ago).  With my A day classes, we watched two videos:  first, a short biography that I followed with a reading of the speech by Alice Walker.


We then did a quick review of key rhetorical devices, and I kept them projected on the board as students than did individual annotations and rhetorical analysis of the speech.

Once again, we projected the speech on the board as a PDF and worked our way through the speech exploring the rhetorical devices with students volunteering to lead the discussion for each paragraph and our class engaging in a collaborative large group exploration of the speech.  However, for this round of text analysis I asked students to then  work with a partner to do some additional reflection questions on the speech.  While my classes did a fantastic job digging into and reflecting on the text, I wondered if there was not a way for students to actually show their annotations  and thinking to the rest of the class as they took turns leading the conversation.  I began to think about how to make this “visible thinking” happen the next day on Friday.

Initially, I thought about having the speech blown up into posters and doing a sort of gallery walk approach to the annotations and letting students then present from each station.  However, this idea was not very practical due to the lack of time or ease of access to a poster printing machine.  I suddenly remembered a training we had on new document cameras prior to our holiday break last semester; I messaged our media specialist after hours and asked if she could reserve one for me the next day.  Not only did she do so, but we also have enough of these document cameras for teachers to keep them through the year (click here to see our marvelous model ).     It is much smaller than it appears in the photo below; you could easily fold it up and put it in your purse or tote bag.

This document camera model is by far the best I’ve used in the last 10 years.  It is petite, lightweight, super easy to set up, and focuses quickly.  The image resolution is also superb.  Most importantly, it was easy for the students to use.

I repeated the same initial steps of the activity with the video on Friday, but I then had students work in pairs and trios to do collaborative thinking and come up with collaborative annotations of the text as they talked it through together.  I was so inspired by the rich conversations I heard as I walked around the room and heard students really talking to each other and debating the use of rhetorical devices in the speech.   Even my quietest students were suddenly rather animated and participating in the discussion with a partner or partners.   One student was almost in tears as she told me how moved she was by the words and how she was realizing through her work with her two partners how beautiful the speech was.  She exclaimed, “I love Sojourner Truth!  This speech is amazing!”  I am sure there is not a standardized test to measure that kind of learning and growth!

After having about 12-15 minutes to work together, groups could then volunteer to lead discussions and share their analysis and show us their work with the document camera.  As soon as the first group presented, hands were up and students eagerly volunteering to come up to the document camera (which connected to my laptop via USB and that I placed on a student desk for ease of use by groups).    I saw an enthusiasm and level of engagement I have not seen from some of my classes, and I think the ability of the document to suddenly make visible and public the students had done with their partners was the game changer.  Several students told me how much they loved the activity and hoped we’d be using the document camera again (we will!).

I am so excited to have found a way to make a good learning activity BETTER and that elevates student work, talk, and ownership of the conversation to a higher level.   Suddenly, rhetorical analysis and annotation have new depth, meaning, and purpose for my students, and I’m truly eager to see what else we can do the rest of this spring.

Engage All Students in Quick But Meaningful Review with Everyone Up!

This is time of year  when many educators look at the calendar and begin to feel panic (or fully embrace the panic?) as they realize how quickly the remainder of the school year is slipping away.  I am most decidedly one of those teachers!  I need to finish our unit of study by the third week of March, yet I don’t want to “blow through” the material.  On the other hand, I don’t have the luxury of time to do many of the learning activities I’ve done through this school year simply because they are time consuming—even on a modified block schedule—and  despite the fact they are valuable learning structures.

On my lunch break yesterday, I was wracking my brain for a strategy to help my “A” day classes review and bring closure to our learning activities we started on Tuesday with Kate Chopin and “The Story of an Hour.” I came across a simple yet very effective strategy called “Everyone UP! Immediately I felt this approach might be the perfect fit.

Here is how I implemented it with my classes today:

  • Flashback:  On Tuesday, we began with a writer’s craft notebook prompt for notebook time as a means of bringing closure to our discussion of the use of point of view in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and to help students think about point of view in their books they have selected for choice reading time.  We jumped into Kate Chopin by reading a short biography of her together, and then I gave students some brief notes on what the cultural norms were for women during her time.   After listening to “The Story of an Hour” together and discussing it as we read and annotated together (we used the Common Lit version), students answered the four discussion questions from Common Lit (I downloaded and made copies of the questions for students knowing it would be integrated into our review work today).
  • Today, students completed a “Ticket in the Door” that asked them jot down the top 10 things they remembered or knew about the story.  Students then received a set of 15 questions that asked students to engage in some high level thinking questions; I called these the magic square reflections mainly because I created the handout with the questions in squares—somehow, this visual appearance makes the thinking work with the questions seem less intimidating for many of my students.
  • I told students to complete as many of the magic square questions as they could; they could also them complete them in any order.  Students used their copy of the text, their notes I provided them last week on Realism and Naturalism, and their story materials from earlier in the week.  I gave each of my three classes about 30-35 minutes to think and complete what they could.
  • At the end of the 30+ minute block, I asked them to put an x in any question boxes they had not completed, but I told them they would have an opportunity to add notes during our next activity.  I introduced Everyone Up as a game to help us review.  Here were our ground rules/protocols:

Everyone Up!  Our Approach

  1.  Everyone has to stand.  You cannot sit down until you answer a question correctly, and I clear you to return to your seat.
  2. You may use any of your Chopin materials.
  3. You must answer one question correctly; as I call out the questions, you choose when you want to participate.
  4. For questions that had multiple answers or interpretation, I will call upon more than one student; if you want to contribute, raise your hand so I know you want to add to the conversation.
  5. Anyone who wants to remain standing and do bonus questions after everyone has participated may do so.
  6. The only person talking is the one who has the floor.
  7. Raise your hand when you are ready to answer a question or add to a response.

We used our magic reflection square questions, our ticket in the door, and our Common Lit discussion questions as our basis for review.  This technique got everyone involved, yet students had control to choose to answer questions that were their strengths.  This participatory technique involved some movement  yet was not as frenzied or involved as our gallery walk and some of our other active discussion/conversation strategies are—in this case, that is exactly what I was looking for so we could wrap up our work with the story today and start fresh on Monday.  Though our version took more than 10 minutes, we had a rich review without taking up more than 30 minutes.  Several students commented they found this form of review helpful.

Even my most reluctant students were positive and eager to jump into the conversation; after students were cleared to sit, most continued to take notes and add to their existing work.  The activity itself was a formative assessment for me to hear understandings and any muddy points of confusion to circle back to on Monday if needed.  One final formative assessment for today was our exit ticket, one I crafted as a full size handout with  a “3-2-1” set of reflections:

  1.  Name three major understandings you have right now about the story that are significant and meaningful.  Provide textual evidence.
  2. What are two new insights and understandings you now have about “Story of an Hour”?
  3.  What is the most interesting idea you heard from a classmate today?  Why?  How did it help you or connect with you?  Who said it?

While the structure sounds simple, that is the beauty of it, and all students were involved in our review “game.”  I was elated that students who normally hate pair or group activities were upbeat and really shining when their turn (of their choosing) came to share with the class.  I will most definitely try this learning structure again later in the spring.

What “quick review” strategies do you like to use in your classroom and enable students to do the heavy lifting of the review?