Sunday, June 04, 2006


i've started my planning for next year...

if anyone has any really good ideas for teaching writing to lower-tracked students, please let me know.

i'm really excited for next year. i got all the classes i asked for--i suppose because no one else wants the lowest track...i'll have so much more freedom with them though. i've already come up with some ideas:

  • a slave narrative (non-fiction) in connection to to kill a mockingbird. i love looking at the social context of tkm. and the slave narrative will let me get into that a bit more.
  • also for the sophomores, we're going to do a lot of summarizing. once a week, i'm having them bring in a textbook from another class, and they're going to have to practice summarizing what they're doing.
  • i'm working on bellringers for all the classes.
  • my freshmen will be reading "the most dangerous game" in a short story unit...then we're going to move on to treasure island and talk about the adventure novel...also coming of age stories. then i'm going to have them write a coming of age story about themselves (narrative).
  • also, my freshmen will read a part of a christmas carol and write a compare/contrast paper about it and the film scrooged.
  • i'm going to begin both classes with a mystery story. i'd like to get them looking at "clues" in literature.
  • i have to find a play for my juniors to read for their literary analysis essay. i want something they'll be interested in but also something they can write about. suggestions?
i will be ridiculously prepared come august...


Mei said...

I've taught The Crucible in the past to juniors; I have never been disappointed in their reactions: they LOVE it. It helps that it's based on actual events (both the real Salem Witch Trials, as well as the McCarthy hearings), because you can do compare/contrast between fiction and reality. Also, you can make connections between those events and current events. A great companion to Animal Farm, as well, if you wanted to go that route.

This year, for the first time, I taught Death of a Salesmen and The Glass Menagerie (this was in theatre class, but most of them were juniors). They were able to respond to both, because both plays deal with trying to please parents, and they (the students) are right at that age where they're walking the line of trying to make their own identities, but still living under their parents' rules and expectations. I was really pleased with how both units turned out.

Finally, I suggest Twelve Angry Men. This is one of my favorites anyway, but I've found that the students are engaged almost right away. Also, with the many procedural shows that are popular right now, the kids could probably make a case on their own for the defendants' innocence, if they were given all the information and took some time to think it through.

Ms. H said...

I 'visited' a book by Nancy Atwell at B&N the other looked like a fabulous resource for teaching writing to Jr. high...which might work for my lower h.s. kids. It's a book with a binder of lesson plans...Lessons That Change Writers is the title.

the anonymous teacher said...

i've got it, ms. h!!

i like it in theory...but i'm nervous about putting it into practice. i'm just not sure if it's as do-able as she makes it sound.

i'll let you know if it's worth the small fortune they charge for it ;)

the anonymous teacher said...

mei, i'm looking for a text of twelve angry men. i'm a cop-show nut, so i'd love to teach that.

i believe they had the crucible in another class, so angry older teachers would get angrier at me if i tried to re-teach it.

Kim said...

I'm a big fan of TKAM also. In my Teaching Strategies class, one of the supplemental texts I wrote that I would use was Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “The Haunted Oak." You might check it out for some more social contexty stuff.

DCS said...

Twelve Angry Men is a good pick, I think. I love it.

Check out another book for some ideas on teaching writing to lower-tracked students.

The book is The Freedom Writers Diary: Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by the Freedom Writers and Zlata Filipovic. This book was a bestseller several years ago and got great national press. Erin Gruwell is the then-novice teacher who inspired the students. To read a review, click here. The initial book was published in 1999, I believe. Gruwell is co-authoring an updated version in January of 2007.

Another book that may interest you is written by teenager Edward Booker and his writer-aunt, Rose Jackson-Beavers. The book: A Hole in My Heart. Booker was 14 when he came up with the idea of writing this novel about a teen, much like himself. The main character, a 13-year old, talked about the challenges of trying to stay on the straight and narrow while living in a poverty-stricken, drug-infested environment in East St. Louis, IL.

Jackson-Beavers, a published author, utilized her background as a career social worker to add to the storyline.

I wrote a feature on this book last year. Click here to read my newspaper story. Teens and adults alike seem to be really drawn to this novel.

Keep us posted on your class. May your students discover the joy of writing! You might even find an aspiring author in the group. :-)

By the way, I find your site very refreshing. You might be interested in some writing-related posts on my second blog, Media by Sistrunk.

Mister Teacher said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mister Teacher said...

I like To Kill a Mockingbird and Twelve Angry Men as much as the next person, but I absolutely LOVE the Christmas movie Scrooged! What a thrill it would be to watch that in class!
It's not exactly rated G, though... But then, maybe it doesn't need to be for a high school class. I teach third grade, where everything has to be rated G, at least when it comes to movie viewing.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

Anonymous, up until two years ago I taught a Basic American History class, and I want to tell you how we did it. I don't think you'll like it, but I'll tell you anyway, and maybe you can think about it as you go through your year.

Everything I've read about tracking is that it's bad, and the lower track just ends up falling farther behind. I developed our basic class along with our special ed. teacher, I wrote my own text for it, and we did some things to try to avoid the normal pitfalls. The most important thing we did was that we screened the kids coming in. We were looking for students who had a difficult time in social studies, but who made a good effort. Kids who were disruptive, kids who did poorly because they didn't try, and kids who were chronically absent were not allowed in the class. I had all the sophomores, so they would be placed in my regular American History classes. If these kids made a turnaround while they were in the regular class, and were still having a hard time, then we could always move them into the basic class later, and sometimes that happened.

My basic class was a success, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were times when that class would get chronilogically ahead of my regular classes, and as the regular classes caught up, study hall teachers told me that my basic kids would sometimes help regular kids with their homework.

There were two times that the basic class didn't work, and those were times that we allowed anyone who wanted to enroll in the class. We'd end up with all the disruptive kids in there, along with kids who made no effort, and the class was wrecked for everyone.

I know what I'm telling you doesn't fit your philosophy, and I hope you're successful doing things your way. But if things aren't going well, you might want to think about my experience with lower track classes.

Best of luck!

the anonymous teacher said...

Kim, another good supplement for TKM is the book Without Sanctuary. Many kids don't understand the part in the book where the mob comes to take Tom away. The students get that it's bad, but they don't quite understand what's going on. When we get to this portion of the novel, we talk about lynching, and I show them photographs from Without Sanctuary. It's a book of photos of lynchings that people sent out as postcards. That really disgusts students, and it also helps them to understand the social situation of the time.
dcs, I've ordered a copy of The Freedom Writer's Diary. It sounds wonderful. And thank you for the compliment...I appreciate it.
Mister Teacher, I just have to get a permission slip signed by parents saying I can show the film. High school is a little more lenient.
And Dennis, I actually agree with you on the basic class, in that I think students should be in the class only if they actually need to be for learning reasons. A lot of times lower-tracked classes tend to be the dumping ground for students with behavior issues, and that's not what they're created for. A lot of times the students who are at a lower level are the ones with behavior problems because they're so frustrated. Those I can handle. But those students who are simply in the class because they think they can be lazy will be sent to a higher track as soon as possible...
And I'll keep quiet on my opinions on tracking for right now.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

How about that last sentence! Do you ever know how to arouse people's curiosity!! No wonder you get so many comments on your posts!!!

Epiphany in Baltimore said...

If you can find a good essay on Emmett Till - who was namedropped in a Kanye WEst song recently, the kids all know who he is - then that's a good pairing with TKAM (my favorite teach of all time).

Deb S. said...

Anonymous Teacher: You're smart to keep your opinions on tracking to yourself when YOU KNOW WHO is in the house! ;-)

the anonymous teacher said...

Dennis, I'll have to do an entire post about's too long for a comment.
Epiphany, I use an article from my local newspaper (from when his mother displayed his body) and also something I found on the internet (I use Emmit Till, also.) We listen to the Bob Dylan song, and now that you've shared there's a Kanye West song, I'll have to put that in there. Harper Lee actually based TKM on Walter Lett (I believe that's the man's name. I've tried to find something on him and can't seem to.)
dcs, That sounds like a challenge ;)

Dana Huff said...

I see The Crucible is out, which was going to be my suggestion. Twelve Angry Men would be OK. I like The Glass Menagerie. Lots of good literary stuff to delve into there.

hedgetoad said...

For writing - have you looked at "Step-Up to Writing"? It's a k-12 writing program, but it works really well for those will low skills. Everything is colored coded and it's very easy to expand upon once the basics are solid.