Challenge students to take part in Script Frenzy!

P170409_20.38Script Frenzy is a free event that challenges writers to compose an entire script during the month of April. There are many more official details on the site’s About Page. All kinds of scripts are welcome: screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comics, and graphic novels.

Students from elementary, middle, and high schools can take part in the Young Writers Program. These writers set a personal page-count goal, begin writing on April 1, and upload evidence that they’ve met their goal by April 30. There’s a step-by-step page of instructions as well as information for teachers. You can even use the letter to families to keep everyone in the loop.

College students and the rest of us can take part in the adult program, which challenges writers to compose a 100-page script. All the details for adults are on the site.

The site includes how-to’s for all the genres, like this Intro to Graphic Novels, and there’s even a Plot Machine to check out on the homepage. Here’s the first plot I got:

In an attempt to evade taxes
a disgruntled child actor
must cross a ravine on a tightrope

Obviously, they may not all be classroom-friendly :-)

The event is the dramatic cousin of the National Novel Writer’s Month project, which takes place in November.

So are you interested? Will you tell students? Thinking of organizing class participation? I’d love to hear some stories from other teachers thinking about getting into a script frenzy.


Cross-posted to the NCTE Community Teaching Writing eGroup and Graphic Novels eGroup.

[Photo: P170409_20.38 by robbelaw, on Flickr]

Turning Blog Posts Into a Book Draft

2010 NaNoWriMo Winner BadgeAfter thirty days of thinking, sorting, and scribbling, I turned a variety of notes and blog posts into a very rough and informal book draft of 52,967 words.

Now as I confessed a month ago, I went about the process as a rebel—writing a nonfiction, academic piece and borrowing from existing work as appropriate. Fortunately, rebellion is sanctioned in this contest, and I am now officially a National Novel Writing Month winner for 2010.

The Secret to My Success
I would never have taken on this project without a little nudge from Literature & Latte’s Scrivener NaNoWriMo 2010 Trial, a special trial version of a wonderful word processing program for Mac (and coming soon for Windows). Ryan Cordell reviewed Scrivener for ProfHacker, and that’s when the program initially caught my attention. When I saw that the Literature & Latte folks were offering a discount for NaNoWriMo participants, I knew I had to download the program and give the month-long writing event a try.

After a few days, I realized that Scrivener had completely changed the way I work on a longer document. Honestly, the program made it possible for me to see how my practice of writing short pieces could work in the context of producing a larger document.

I write dozens of short documents every month, almost always blog entries composed in Dreamweaver for upload to a blog platform like WordPress. When I’m not writing blog entries, I am writing very structured pieces like lesson plans and strategy guides for ReadWriteThink.

My greatest fear has been that I would never figure out how to write another book. I’ve become so used to these shorter, structured pieces, that I just couldn’t think through the problem far enough to understand how to structure and write a fluid, longer piece.

After playing with Scrivener a bit, I realized that I could create and import dozens of shorter pieces as Texts, arranging them in folders, and dragging them around on the cork boards until I had what I wanted. I soon had six chapters sketched out, and I ultimately ended up with 73 short texts sorted into those folders.

Admittedly, the draft is not close to finished. There’s little flow or consistency at this point, but when I realize that I went from 0 words to a fleshed-out folder outline and over 50,000 words in a month, I know it wasn’t just the pressure of the NaNoWriMo deadline that did it. The secret to my success was that Scrivener allowed me to collect my existing blog posts, compose some additional short texts, and end up with a book draft.

My Take-Away Lesson
After participating in NaNoWriMo, I realize that I was letting my belief that I had to have a finished idea for a book in my head block me from getting started. Working with Scrivener helped me recognize that my practice of writing short pieces could still work when I composed a larger book-length manuscript.

As I worked on my draft, I quickly learned that I could turn my blog posts into a very rough book draft simply by sorting things into reasonable categories and adding some missing pieces. My take-away lesson is to remember that I don’t need that finished piece figured out to create a longer text. I just need to be open and creative about how I fit my ideas together.

The Outcome
So here it is 30 days later, I have a roughly-arranged manuscript, which I’m currently calling Designing Digital Writing Assignments.

I’m not sure when I’ll get the manuscript finished or if I can find a publisher. I’m trying not to worry about that right now. It’s enough of an accomplishment to realize that I now know how to turn my blog posts into a book draft. I even know what I want to write a third book about and how to do that. Besides, I need to get back to anxiously checking my email for that 50% off discount for Scrivener that I should get from Literature & Latte as a NaNoWriMo winner.


Thanksgiving Classroom Discussion: The Meaning of Thanksgiving

TurkeysStill looking for that last-minute classroom activity to keep the class occupied before the Thanksgiving break? Mark Twain’s newly released autobiography includes a comment on the meaning of Thanksgiving that is bound to lead to a lively classroom discussion.

Begin the classroom discussion by asking students to brainstorm or freewrite about the meaning of Thanksgiving. To help focus their comments, you might first ask them to reflect on what Thanksgiving means to them by sharing some of their personal experiences.

Next, ask them the talk about the cultural and social messages related to the holiday. It’s likely you can arrange their shared responses into a handful of categories like family, tradition, patriotism, thankfulness, and shopping.

Once students have recorded their ideas on the meaning of Thanksgiving, turn to Twain. The New York Times published some Excerpts From the ‘Autobiography of Mark Twain’, (found via Chris Boese on Facebook) that included this vitriolic rant “On the Meaning of Thanksgiving”:

Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it.

Twain’s syntax is a little complex, so you might start by breaking down that passage and unpacking the words. Ask students to look in particular at the word choice Twain is using to establish his opinion on the meaning of Thanksgiving:

  • It’s a function, rather than a holiday or celebration
  • The pilgrims are “those people.”
  • The function marks “exterminating their neighbors.”

There’s no whitewashing in Twain’s account of Thanksgiving! Those are some tough words, and Twain’s meaning is very clear.

Have students think about the religious and cultural references in the quotation, and challenge them to think about how Twain’s personal experiences may have influenced his opinion. Have students compare Twain’s comments to the ideas they brainstormed at the beginning of the activity, and encourage class discussion of the accuracy of Twain’s statement. Are there ways that Twain’s take on the meaning of Thanksgiving could be seen as accurate?

As an extension, ask students to adopt Twain’s structure and tone and apply it to Black Friday or Cyber Monday. What would Twain say was the meaning of those commercial events?


[Photo: Turkeys by Hey Paul, on Flickr] Bundles Simplify Sharing Links with Students

~dried and Bundles are about to simplify the way you share links with students and colleagues. Take any collection of links you want to pass along, and with Bundles you can share just one short web address. You’ll no longer need to pass out links individually.

I originally found link bundling in a post about from Jane’s Pick of the Day. Imagine my surprise when less than an hour later the same capability miraculously appeared on my Pro page. I’m a addict, so that’s the tool I’m reviewing here today.

Lifehacker has explained the tool and talked about how it can be handy to the general user. To demonstrate who I might use it, I created a bundle of links to the sites where I publish most of my personal work—links to Twitter, Facebook, and the blogs I work on. Bundles took the collection of six different links and simplified them into a single URL that I can easily share at a conference, in email, or even Tweet out to my followers:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/newsfromtengrrl/status/5737279511330816″]

Even better than just collecting the links on a single page, Bundles let you control how the links appear on the collection’s page. You can edit the titles and add descriptions or explanations to the links in your bundle. If a link in a bundle changes, or you want to add or delete it, you can edit the collection later. People who visit the bundle can add comments as well.

In educational settings, Bundles take care of two challenges:

  1. They let people see the target links before they click. The service allows for link shortening with transparency. There are no surprises behind the shortened URLs.
  2. They take care of the need to point to multiple texts without blasting a series of URLs or having to create an intermediary page.

It’s a smooth tool that makes sharing links much easier. Just pass out one address, and you’re done!

Not yet convinced? I brainstormed some uses to demonstrate the possibilities for using Bundles in the classroom. Create a Bundle to

  • gather a collection of articles on a current event for students to read.
  • point to a reading and to related discussion and criticism.
  • link to resources for a writing assignment (e.g., tip sheets, guidelines).
  • make sets for students you can use in feedback or tutoring (for instance, a collection on adding descriptive details).
  • share background information on an author or piece of literature.
  • collect information on campus or community resources for a project (e.g., the Writing Center, the reference desk, office hours).
  • distribute URLs to class projects.

And that’s just a beginning. Essentially any time you need to share more than one address, you can use Bundles to simplify the task.

Since you can edit the Bundles, they’re useful for collections you use in more than one class or more than one term. Collect your links in a bundle, and publish that URL in each course. The URL you share remains the same every semester. You simply return to the Bundle each term to make any updates.

To build community resources, like a student-assembled collection of links, I’d still recommend a social bookmarking tool like Delicious or Diigo, but for the collections that you create and find yourself reusing, Bundles are going to make sharing links a whole lot easier for teachers.


[Photo: ~dried and bundled~ by uteart, on Flickr]

Updating the Copyright Puzzle

Copyright Symbol by Horia VarlanIn some ways, copyright is a very static thing. Once you set your words down, you own them for decades. When it comes to how teachers apply and teach copyright however, there are always new resources and new guidelines to take into consideration.

This entry was originally published on the NCTE Inbox blog on June 15, 2010. This revised version includes some additional resources and is updated to reflect the Library of Congress ruling on DVD remixing from July of this year. Resources are included for all grade levels (kindergarten to college).

Figuring out copyright can be like piecing together a puzzle. You have a good idea how it’s supposed to work in the end, but all the little pieces can be confusing to piece together.

These links can help you learn more about copyright yourself and teach students about fair use and copyright. In no time, you’ll move from scattered pieces to a full picture of copyright and fair use.

Classroom Resources

Check out the Media Education Lab website for key resources and curriculum materials. The site includes links to My Pop Studio, which focuses on media literacy for girls 9–14, and Assignment Media Literacy resources for K–12 students. You’ll find songs and video clips that you can use with students or in your professional development workshops.

Copyright on the Web, from CyberBee, is a simple FAQ interactive that younger students can explore to learn more about copyright.

Older students can use the Digital Slider from the Copyright Advisory Network to test whether the works they want to use are covered by copyright. The Fair Use Evaluator, also from the Copyright Advisory Network, steps content creators through the process of creating a fair use defense.

Teaching Copyright, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is a collection of five lesson plans on copyright, fair use, file sharing, and remixing.

The Fair Use section of the Center for Social Media website includes teaching materials and educational resources on fair use of documentary film and online video.

Movie Clips and Copyright from Inside Higher Ed explains the Library of Congress ruling on DVD remixing and fair use, which allow wider use of samples from DVDs for classroom use and student projects.

The Campus Guide to Copyright Compliance from the Copyright Clearance Center provides a thorough overview of copyright, fair use, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication, from the Center for Social Media, “identifies four situations that represent the current consensus within the community of communication scholars about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials.”

Copyright, from University Publishing of Washington State University, recommended by NCTE & CCCC member William Condon, includes information on everything about copyright from music to the Internet. The Public Domain Chart and Fair Use section are great classroom resources.

Profhacker’s Solutions for Dealing with Copyrighted Materials in an Open Access Course offers strategies for creating open classes that provide the necessary audio, video, and print documents while still respecting the intellectual property rights of those who created the texts.

The article “Copying Right and Copying Wrong with Web 2.0 Tools in the Teacher Education and Communications Classrooms” from CITE Journal outlines guidelines for determining the fair use of various Internet resources by teachers and students. The article was reviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In addition to resources on copyright, you may want to know something about Creative Commons. For a great overview, check out “The Beauty of ‘Some Rights Reserved’: Introducing Creative Commons to Librarians, Faculty, and Students” from the November issue of the Association of College and Research Libraries publication C&RL News. The About section of the Creative Commons website offers movies, comics, and FAQs.

Issues for Discussion

If you’re ready to ask students to think critically about the complex issues that copyright law raises, you’ll find ideas on these sites. Some are meant to provide background for you, the teacher, while others are appropriate for sharing in the classroom.

Academic Institutions Face "Unfunded Mandate" To Enforce Copyright on Networks from Library Journal discusses regulations that require all schools that receive public funding to “combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material by users of an institution’s network.” Is the legislation asking libraries to police areas outside their control (and what are the funding ramifications for those schools)?

The role of “fair use” in a time of CHANGE, a 2009 lecture by Lawrence Lessig, raises intriguing questions about the way copyright works for print-based texts versus video-based texts and introduces the idea of Creative Commons as an alternative. The video is 66 minutes long, so you may want to ask students to view it outside of class and save class time for discussion.

Copyright: The Elephant in the Middle of the Glee Club, from the blog Balkinization, points out the glaring problems with the instruction at William McKinley High School on the television show Glee. There’s lots of fun and songs, but also a lot of apparently teacher-sanctioned copyright violation. The article will lead to lively discussion among students who watch the Fox TV show.

The Inbox Blog post Mixing or Plagiarizing? raises questions about how print-based text was recently borrowed in a German novel that the author defends as a cultural remix. Students can read the related news articles and discuss whether the copying was fair use or a violation of the original writer’s copyright.

The Intellectual Property Colloquium offers a recorded conversation among three scholars on Copyright Termination, the “unwaivable right to terminate certain contracts and licensing agreements.” Students can listen and then join the debate. Should someone be able to reverse a copyright agreement?

NPR’s “Cooks Source, Copyright And Public Domain” and The Guardian’s Cooks Source: US copyright complaint sparks Twitter and Facebook storm describe the copyright scandal surrounding a stolen recipe for medieval apple tarts. Classroom ideas for discussion are included in my An Easy-as-Apple-Pie Plagiarism Lesson on the Bedford Bits blog (forthcoming 11-23-10).

Challenging a YouTube Video Take Down is a short, and likely memorable, introduction to the fair use in using video clips to create a new work. Classroom discussion might focus on how the principles of fair use apply in other contexts. Students might also search other sites to learn how to protest a take down on another website.

Can You Copyright Your Tweets? refutes the position that Twitter posts are too short to be protected by copyright. The post comes from the blog 95Years, recommended by @jensmyth. Check the blog for the latest controversies involving technology and social media. Because some information on the site is not appropriate for your typical classroom, the resource is best for teachers rather than students.

The xkcd comic “Steal This Comic” is a short, pointed discussion starter for the issues surrounding music copyright. Whether you agree with xkcd’s take on the issue or not, it’s an interesting way to introduce the topic.

[Photo: Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo of copyright symbol by Horia Varlan]

38 Ways to Write about Writing

Writing writing writing...The second National Day on Writing is nearly upon us. Wednesday, October 20, is the day established by the National Council of Teachers of English to celebrate the many kinds of writing that people everywhere do.

Chances are that the students you teach are already writing and already talking about writing each and every day. What can you do to make this one day stand out?

NCTE has some celebration ideas, and the National Writing Project has gathered details on how many sites plan to celebrate. Last year, there were school-wide celebrations at places like Eastern Michigan University and Boston University, special acuities in college writing centers and writing program offices such as the University of Minnesota and Arizona State University, and hundreds of people adding submissions to the National Gallery of Writing like these writers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The New York Times Learning Network blog even suggested writing activities for students.

For a classroom-based celebration that can fit in with whatever theme or topic you are teaching, try asking students to write about writing. No matter what they are doing, they can reflect on the writing they are doing, the strategies they use, and the different experiences they have had as writers.

The resources below come from a variety of sources, but all ask students to think about themselves as writers. Though some are framed for specific projects (e.g., writer’s blogs) they can easily be adapted and customized. Just share the question and ask students to discuss it in whatever way you like.

Whatever you choose to do, I’d love to hear about your celebration. Please let me know about your plans in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by dbdbrobot]


Photo Writing Prompt: A Voice From the Past

My senior portrait This prompt is inspired by the piece that I wrote about my high school yearbook photo back in August 2009 for Laurie Halse Anderson’s for Write Fifteen Minutes a Day (WFMAD) and that I submitted to Bedford/St. Martin’s Gallery of Writing.

For this project, students choose their own photos, based on the kind of project they are completing. Here are some options students can use:

  • Choose your own school picture or yearbook photos or school pictures, and write an autobiographical memoir.
  • Find a photo of a famous historical figure or contemporary figure, and write your comments after completing some research on the person and the events in his or her life.
  • Use the photo of a family member, and write a biographical reflection, informed by your interactions with that family member.
  • Find a random photo on Flickr, and write a fictional piece about the imagined thoughts of the person in the photo.

A Voice From the Past. What would the person in the photo you have chosen say to you? What would that voice from the past tell you. Your job is to create a text from the perspective of the person in the photo. She will speak to the future, sharing something about things she has learned and what she has done.

Try freewriting on one of these questions to get started:

  • What choices would the person in the picture tell you to make?
  • What would the person regret that was happening when the picture was taken?
  • What would the person look back on with a smile?
  • What would the person wish could be different?
  • What advice or warnings would the person give you?
  • What would the person see now if she (or he) looked back at the photo?
  • What secrets would the person confess now about life then?
  • What does the person in the photo not realize yet?
  • What would the person tell you about goals and dreams?
  • What was important to the person in the photo? Has it changed?


50 Teaching Links You May Have Missed

FerrisWheelI gathered a collection of over 50 links for the ProfHacker Teaching Carnival 4.2. You can find links to teaching in a variety of disciplines at the college and university level, plus links to some humorous articles I found.

There are details at the end of the post on how to suggest your own links (or those of your colleagues) for the November Teaching Carnival, which will be hosted by .

Oh, and the “Right This Way to the Egress” header? Yep, completely inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching.

[Image: FerrisWheel by twoblueday, on Flickr]

Photo Writing Prompt: A Reflection on Censorship

September 25–October 2 is Banned Books Week (BBW), so I’ve chosen a photo related to censorship and book banning. This post is the first of what, I hope, will become a regular feature, assuming feedback is positive.

Memorial to Nazi book-burning Reflection. What do you see in the glass? This image (click to see enlarged version) shows the reflection of visitors to a Memorial built in the Bebelplatz, the square where Nazi followers burned about 20,000 books found to be “Un-German” on May 10, 1933.

The memorial itself is a sheet of glass inserted into the cobblestone plaza. Visitors can look through the glass to see a lighted, underground room lined with enough empty bookshelves to hold approximately 20,000 books.

Imagine yourself as one of the visitors to the memorial. Write a diary entry, blog entry, or short personal essay from the perspective of that visitor. Your goal is to capture what one of the people reflected on the glass is thinking.

Try freewriting on one of these questions to get started:

  • What emotions did the empty bookcases stir for you when you looked through the glass? Why?
  • Who else is reflected in the glass? Describe how someone else reacted to the memorial and how their response compared to yours.
  • Why did you come to the memorial? Did it meet your expectations?
  • How does the underground placement of the memorial affect its impact?
  • Describe the conversation you had with someone else reflected in the glass. What did you say to each other?
  • If you could create a memorial that peered through a window to another moment, what moment would you choose and how would you represent it?


[Memorial to Nazi book-burning by Lukas, on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]

More Banned Books Week Resources

Muggles for Harry Potter PinOne of my cherished possessions is a Muggles for Harry Potter pin from 1999. Eric Crump gave it to me, having picked it up from the NCTE librarian. I hadn’t read a word of J. K. Rowling’s first book, but I was willing to join the anti-censorship campaign.

I wish all adults understood that while they are responsible for helping their family choose books, they aren’t responsible for telling the rest of us what we can read. Since the world doesn’t seem to work that way, we talk about banned books and the problems of censoring ideas in the classroom.

When I posted a list of Top 10 Things to Do with a Banned Book earlier this week, I was accused on the English Companion Ning of being biased and working to indoctrinate students. Sigh .  .  .

I guess I do have a bias: people should be allowed to choose what they read. I fundamentally believe that students and families should be allowed to reject a text that doesn’t fit with their beliefs and values. But no one should be allowed to make that decision for everyone else.

I advocate choice, and I do so by talking about banned books. I want students to know that books have been banned. I want them to know how and why they get banned so that they understand censorship. And yes, I want them to realize that individuals should be free to read what they want.

Since I posted my Top 10 Things, some additional resources have been released. Some, unfortunately, have been created in response to a sweeping call for censorship by Dr. Wesley Scroggins. If you want to learn more about censorship or to find some additional classroom resources, check out these resources: