table talk

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?

Finding a Path into Poetry with Annotations, FSLL Charts, and Poetry Chats

Last week  (April 17) we began our exploration of poetry with an inquiry-oriented warm-up.  I presented students two documents:

  • An annotated copy of “Alone” by Maya Angelou (annotations by me)
  • A FSLL (Feelings, Story, Language, and Lines) that I had completed for “Alone” by Maya Angelou.

Students could work alone or with a partner to record their noticings about the annotation strategies evident on the poem; they also recorded their noticings about the kinds of elements discussed in the FSLL chart.   They also got to talk about any overalap they saw between the two.  Once students had recorded these noticings, we shared out to the whole class.

The next day, we engaged in a class reading of “Every Day” by Naomi Shihab Nye; this poem is part of a collection in her book A Maze Me:  Poems for Girls, a longtime favorite of mine.  Students practiced annotation the poem and working on their FSLL charts for the “Every Day”; students also had the opportunity to share their work with a partner.

My two “accelerated” classes also had the opportunity to complete a sticky note lit analysis jigsaw by finding two metaphors and one symbol in the poem.  Students had the opportunity to identify the literary element, draw a sketchnote to represent what they saw in their minds when they read those lines, and to write a short explanation of the literary element and how it contributed to the overall message or meaning of the poem.

This past week we engaged in poetry chats to generate conversation and share our thinking about the poem.  I did two variations of the poetry chat:  one version was set up like a timed station rotation, and the other was structured more like table talk with a large class share.

With the station rotation version, we did timed stations in which students wrote their responses on butcher paper.  This pretty much took the entire class period and is a great option when you have the luxury of time.  On Day 2, each group was assigned the task of reading over the responses and generating a 3-2-1 reflection to share with the whole class:

Students received a performance assessment grade for their poster presentation and a separate grade for the written poster (content, response to the writing/thinking directions).

A quicker version that is also meaningful is to assign a question prompt to each table group and let them brainstorm their responses on a large sticky note to to then share out to the whole class.  Though they don’t get the benefit of the silent “write around” and seeing the thinking of an entire class like the longer version,  this version still engages student in teamwork and critical though as well as an opportunity to speak to the entire class.  I used the same prompts for both variations of poetry chat, and I also provided supporting notes on any literary elements I felt might be helpful for students.  You will note my question prompts say “silent” because originally I had planned for each class to do the silent write-around part first, but as many of you know, time is at a premium right now, and I was not able to do it with three sections due to time constraints.

We are on the eve of state Milestones testing here, but we’ll continue to read poems and analyze them using the FSLL strategies/question prompts to annotate and think about poems.  Our next steps will be to take our charts to the next level with 11×17 posters, so stay tuned for a new post on that in May!

Introducing Argumentative Writing with Four Corners Debate, Table Talk, Ping/Pong Pros and Cons, and Team Debates

Taking a page from the playbook of Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy, I decided to introduce our new unit on argumentative writing with some informal debate.  On Day 1, we started with this ticket in the door that surveyed students on what they knew about debate.  Students engaged in partner talk (I recommend the “knee to knee, face to face” method)  first about their responses; we then moved to whole group discussion as students shared their responses and thoughts.

Next, students completed the Four Corners debate graphic organizer to prepare what they might want to say on the following statements:

Once students completed their graphic organizer, we started with a couple of rounds of informal debate via Four Corners.

At the end of the day Wednesday, I felt the Four Corners strategy—for whatever reasons—was just falling flat and not working for my students, so I decided to regroup a bit the following day with variations on table talk.

On Thursday, students could choose their groups; the only restrictions were:

  • You must leave your current table group.
  • You may not sit with anyone from your table group.
  • No more than four people per table area.

We began our table talk by sharing what we had to say about each topic and why.  We then moved to a more focused round of discussion and collaboration.  Each group was assigned one of the topics to lead for discussion using the following protocols:

I was pleasantly surprised that this simple approach yielded some lively discussion within table groups and in our large group share.  For several of my classes, this activity generated some of the best work and richest thinking I’ve heard all year.

Next Steps:  Debating with Evidence

For our next round of informal debate, I wanted students to find evidence to back up their stance or claim.  Students were first asked to write how they felt about zoos–are they a good idea, and what makes you say that?  Students composed this response on a lined sticky note.

Next, students were provided two articles about zoos.  On January 23, students received this graphic organizer and began looking for evidence to support each claim.  Students could use mini sticky notes to gather their evidence and/or write directly on the graphic organizer.  I differentiated between my classes by letting two of my sections collaborate and work with a partner; for my accelerated classes, they did their initial thinking and gathering work independently before having a chance to share with a partner on the following day of class and to finalize their work.

Students had half the period on Thursday and half the period on Friday to gather as much research as the could and discuss with a buddy.  For Periods 1, 4, and 5, students lined up on either side of our center table area; I designated one side as the group that would share reasons zoos are beneficial; the other side was designated as the side to share evidence to argue that zoos are not ethical or good for animals.   Students were standing directly across from each other and we did what I called “Ping Pong Pro/Con” debate with a person from one side presenting evidence and then the opposing side would present their evidence.   The primary rule was that you could repeat evidence that anyone had shared, so students sometimes had to drill down into the evidence they had collected.  I was so busy moderating and listening to student responses/taking notes as a formative assessment that I did not get any photos!

This activity was a gentle way of letting students share evidence-based responses and differing views without overwhelming them with rules of formal debate.  In addition, the activity was a fabulous and easy formative assessment because you could quickly hear in the verbal responses if students had correctly pickled relevant evidence for their assigned claim and if they understand the evidence.

For my final class, I decided to do a variation on the activity and have team competitions instead.   Sometimes Friday afternoons with 8th graders require you to be resourceful, and a good old-fashioned competition is an easy to energize tired 8th graders on a Friday afternoon during the last period of the day.  Students compared evidence and prepared what they felt were their five most compelling pieces of evidence for their assigned claim.

Both teams presented well enough that we had to go to sudden death round with teams choosing one final piece of new evidence to make their case!  The team element plus some “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” music amped up the energy!

In my next post, I’ll share how we moved from these first steps to exploring concepts of claims, counterclaims, and rebuttals.