A Definition Assignment from a Super Bowl Commercial

I wasn’t blown away by the Super Bowl commercials this year. There were a couple that seemed cute to me. The GoDaddy commercials, as usual, annoyed me. WWE fan that I am, I enjoyed The Rock’s Milk commercial, and like several of my friends, I teared up over the Clydesdale commercial.

The most immediately useful commercial however was this farmer commercial for Ram Trucks, which uses Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” speech as its text:

Play this commercial in the classroom and talk about writing extended definitions. It’s a wonderful example and can inspire students to create their own video definitions.

Easy Ways for Kids and Teens to Make Greeting Cards

Group work on cardsNo matter what holiday you are celebrating this month, nothing is quite as precious as a handmade card—especially when it comes from a family member or friend.

We’ve collected some easy ways that you can help the students you teach make cards in class as well as instructions that you can send home for families to use together during the Winter holidays.

The resources do not refer to any particular holiday, so they work whether students and their families want to make cards for Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. The materials can even be used to celebrate the first snowfall or wish someone a Happy New Year. And, of course, the same instructions work for Thank You cards too. So read on, and get ready to make some fun greeting cards!

  • Make a simple card: Make a funny or thoughtful greeting card with photos of family or friends and a poem, joke, or riddle. Find simple step-by-step instructions on how to Send a Smile! For a full lesson plan for early elementary students, check out Using Greeting Cards to Motivate Students and Enhance Literacy Skills.
  • Draw a cartoon: Use the Comic Creator to make a one-of-a-kind greeting card. Kids and teens can illustrate scenes that show how they celebrate with family and friends or create scenes that show what would happen if a dinosaur showed up to celebrate at their home.
  • Write a poem: Help a Child Write a Poem for the inside of a card, or frame it for a special piece of art. Use one of our online tools to write an Acrostic Poem, a Diamante Poem, or a Theme Poem.
  • Create a folded card: Use the Stapleless Book to make an 8-page card for a special family member or friend—and it all fits on one sheet of paper!
  • Design a postcard: Write a postcard with the Postcard Creator then print it out and illustrate the front in a variety of ways, like drawing a picture, creating a collage of images, or printing and pasting clipart in place.
  • Publish a greeting: Make a nontraditional greeting card with the Book Cover Creator. Kids and teens can imagine what a book about a Winter day with their family would be like and create front and back cover as a greeting card.
  • Compose a year-end letter: Help a child or teen write a letter to friends and family that sums up all the things they have done in 2012 with the Letter Generator.

Whatever you do, hope you have a fantastic December. Leave us a note in the comments on how you spent your time together!

—Traci Gardner

 

[[This entry cross-posted in the Community Hub on the Thinkfinity Community site. Photo: Group work on cards by San José Library, on Flickr]

Bits November Blog Flashback

The first word is the hardestBedford/St. Martin’s Bits bloggers posted on topics ranging from our work as writing program administrators to how we teach digital natives. Be sure that you check out all the great ideas for talking about politics and how writing fits into general education requirements—and don’t miss Andrea Lunsford’s praise for short writing assignments in the Classroom Strategies and Resources section:

Writing Program Administration

About Writing and Being a Teacher of Writers

Classroom Strategies and Resources

Analyzing Popular Culture and Current Events

Teaching with Technology

For regular updates from Bedford Bits, be sure to sign up for the Ink’d In newsletter (and other resources), like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

—Traci Gardner

[This entry cross-posted as a Note on Bedford/St. Martin’s page on Facebook. Photo: The first word is the hardest by APM Alex, on Flickr]

 

Ten Winter Activities with ReadWriteThink Interactives

Chinstrap Penguin with snow in its mouthThe last days of 2011 are counting down, and it’s likely that your days in the classroom for 2011 are even fewer! As you’re planning for the last days of the calendar year, consider using ReadWriteThink interactives for one of these fun, winter activities:

  1. Choose an animal you think about during the winter (like penguins, polar bears, or snowshoe rabbit), and explore its habits and life cycle with the Animal Inquiry interactive.
  2. Use the Resume Generator to create a resume for a character from a favorite story or song. What would Scrooge list on his resume?
  3. Compose Shape Poems with the bus for the last day of school. Students can talk about all the things they hope to do during the winter break—after they ride home on the school bus for the last time in 2011.
  4. Have students map significant personal events they remember from previous winter holidays with the Graphic Map.
  5. Write a class alphabet book of activities to try during the winter holidays with the Alphabet Organizer.
  6. Ask students to think of a favorite event that happens during the winter break, and compose Acrostic Poems about it.
  7. Create Character Trading Cards for characters from winter-themed or holiday-themed books or songs. Imagine a trading card for the Baby New Year!
  8. Reflect on all that has happened since the start of the school year in a class newspaper, created with the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.
  9. Explore school days and winter vacation in a Diamante Poem that unites the two opposing topics.
  10. Use the Profile Publisher to mock up social networking profiles, yearbook profiles, or newspaper or magazine profiles for characters from winter-themed or holiday-themed books or songs. What would Frosty the Snowman list on his Facebook profile?

 


This list also posted in the Reading & Language Arts Group in the Thinkfinity Community.

Which Books Would You Ban?

polaroid_banned booksWhat do Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter have in common? How do they differ from Adolf Hitler, Ayn Rand, Michael Moore, Andrew Breitbart, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Michael Savage? A Rebel Pundit survey last month asked, “Which of these books would you be interested in having banned, if you could have books banned?”

The results were overwhelmingly in favor of banning the books of Palin, Beck and Coulter, though the math of the survey is a little confusing since the results don’t add up to 100%. That said, what’s going on here?

Rebel Pundit’s reporter set up on the street in Chicago, during the Printers Row Literary Festival. As these alleged book lovers passed by the reporter, he asked them which books they’d like banned, telling them they could ban up to three, and handing them a Sharpie so they could make tick marks under their choices. Before I go on, watch the Rebel Pundit video of folks participating in the survey:

Sadly, people take the marker and willingly step up to the poster. The editing of the video suggests the participants aren’t really thinking much. They don’t even interact much with the reporter, other than taking the Sharpie from his hand.

In fairness, Rebel Pundit does explain that there were naysayers:

Nine people explicitly stated to us they thought banning books was wrong, including two individuals who voted on the board but later approached us to say, (paraphrasing) “I think I made a mistake, and wanted to take my votes back if I could, because after further reflection, I think banning any book is wrong.”

Only nine people of 147 protested the idea of banning books. Of course, the point of the survey isn’t really book banning. It’s to demonstrate that people make choices without thinking.

My hunch is that the reporter expected people to vote unthinkingly. Rebel Pundit is a conservative blog. According to their About page, they are “a beacon of truth, showing the unholy alliance of the local mainstream media and the progressive Democratic Party.” Since Chicago is a traditionally liberal town, the video and related article depict the people of Chicago as foolish lemmings:

While there were in fact less than two handfuls of individuals who did tell us they don’t think any books should be banned, unfortunately there were a shocking amount of guests at this book fair who were quite open to the idea, and in fact lined up quite excited for the opportunity to voice their opinion.

Given the audience of the Rebel Pundit site, the site likely guessed that their readers would draw the connections that the liberal democrats at the book festival were actually interested in limiting individual freedoms by stepping up happily to ban books. You don’t need to read many of the comments to see that it worked.

How to Use the Video in the Classroom

Because of the way that people blindly choose to ban books, the video can be a useful part of class discussion of censorship and book banning. Though it’s a tempting idea, I would not set up a classroom or school survey to trap students into similar behavior. I want students to think critically about censorship, and I don’t think labeling them as unthinking is a good way to do that.

Instead, I want to play the video for students and ask them what they think is happening. Why are the participants so willing to participate in this book banning activity? I want them to identify how much thought is going into the participants’ decisions and how much peer pressure and the public nature of the survey contribute to participation. I’ll also ask students to look at the setup of the survey. It’s just a simple tick mark on a piece of poster paper. Does that simplicity or the presence of the reporter influence them to participate?

I don’t think the decision to add a vote to the poster is part of some great political agenda, so I will downplay those connections at the beginning of the discussion. When the political aspect of the survey does come up, and I’m sure it will, I’ll ask students to think about how the choice of books and the setting for the survey were part of the reason people were eager to ban the books on the poster. What would happen if the same survey were set up in a conservative town or event?

There are also questions of graphic design to consider: does the layout of book covers on the poster play a part in the response? What would happen if the books are arranged differently on the poster or if the choices were shared only with words (without those very identifiable faces on the book covers)? If the survey itself were presented some other way, would the decision to participate be different?

After all this discussion, I’m thinking of introducing a research project on book banning. Students can research censorship events, like Nazi book burning to more recent censorship of bloggers in countries like China and Egypt. The focus can be widened to include films, songs, and other texts as well. Research questions like these could inspire papers or presentations:

  • How does peer pressure contribute to participation in book burnings?
  • What other persuasive devices were involved?
  • Are there political agendas at play in the choice of what has been banned?
  • Does the fact that just one book is banned simplify participation?
  • Who decided what was banned? What motives were at play?
  • How did people involved respond to censorship?

Supplement your discussion with resources on censorship on the American Library Association website.

If I decide not to go with a research activity, I may stick with the survey itself and ask students to write short responses that they’d give if they were asked, “Which books would you ban?” Answers can be anything from a 140-character Twitter posts to a video response or PowerPoint presentation. The resulting pieces can be part of public service announcement campaign during Banned Books Week.

 

[Photo: polaroid_banned books by karen horton, on Flickr]

 

Software, Teamwork, & Collaboration

Google DocsThis week in Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim asserts, “The world is divided into two types of people: those who prefer Track Changes in Word and those who prefer to write collaboratively in Google Docs.” Kim’s explanation of the two ways of working with text sparked conversation on the TechRhet discussion list. Some spoke to Kim’s explicit question: “Which one are you?” while others extended the focus to consider different ways to write HTML texts.

Naturally, there’s no correct answer to Kim’s question, and the situation is not as binary as it is presented in his article. That ambiguous quality makes the article and its overarching question perfect for a class discussion of collaboration and teamwork. Students can share their own alignment, and then move on to talk about how Kim’s article is defining writing and collaboration. They can widen the discussion of writing and collaboration to include more tools and kinds of composing. With that groundwork in place, they can then talk about their own teamwork in class. Focus their conversation on how different kinds of collaboration suit different projects and ask them to brainstorm strategies for working together when you have different preferences.

Kim’s article is short, but it touches on how software, teamwork, and how people collaborate—all valuable topics for the classroom.


This post is the introduction from the Bits Flashback for July 3. Read the rest of the post on Facebook.

 

[Photo: Google Docs by BobChao, on Flickr]

Reading, Writing, Eating

Lemon CakeAlyssa Rosenberg wrote about Food in Fiction and How Cooking Brings You Closer to Characters this week in The Atlantic. The article asks readers to think about how cooking and eating the same foods as fictional characters strengthens the connection between reader and the text.

Rosenberg describes some lemon cakes she made as a connection to Sansa, a character the books by George R.R. Martin that are the basis of HBO’s Game of Throne:

The cakes weren’t anything like I’d imagined from reading about them in the book—they were spongier and less sweet, and hard to imagine as a dreamed-of delicacy. But they were delicious, a powerful visceral connection to the people on screen and the world in which they live.

Such connections between reader and text reminded me of the potential writing about food has in the composition classroom. Jay Dolmage has written two entries this year that include assignments and discussion ideas. Take a look back at Writing About Food and Food Rules for ways you can connect with students just as Rosenberg connects with those fictional characters.


This post is the introduction from the Bits Flashback for June 26. Read the rest of the post on Facebook.

 

[Photo: Lemon Cake by Charles Haynes, on Flickr]

Another Trauma Narrative: Bits Flashback for May 8

KeyboardOn Saturday, Black College Wire posted an article on a composition assignment that had consequences the teacher never expected. The teacher, Lisa Carl, asked students to write “either a first-person autobiographical account of a significant event in their lives or an analysis of a graphic novel or anthropological classic.”

In response, student Jessica Martin wrote the essay “I had an affair with my high school teacher,” which was later published in the N.C. Central University’s newspaper, the Campus Echo, as part of an annual collection of first-person narratives. The student’s account has resulted in campus scrutiny of her decision to write the essay and the newspaper’s decision to publish it—as well as the arrest of the high school teacher she wrote about.

As I read about the aftermath of the essay’s publication, I thought immediately of Holly Pappas’s Trauma Narrative post last month and how pertinent all the questions she raises are in this situation. It’s worth rereading Holly’s piece and thinking about how it applies and the new questions that it raises.

While you’re looking at past entries, also check out these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.

 

[Photo: Keyboard by cheetah100, on Flickr]

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.