Blackout Poetry with The Book Thief

In The Book Thief, Max takes Hitler’s memoir Mein Kampf, white washes the pages and from that creates something beautiful.  Through this lesson plan, students have the opportunity to do the same.

As my roommate said as we were doing this together, “I’m taking Hitler’s words, reducing it down to 10%, and now it’s so much better!”

Mine’s about zombies. Teehee.

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Lesson plan after the jump.

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Thou shalt repopulate this passage with more verbose vocabulary!

Oh, we had some fun with this activity.

To discuss word choice (particularly words of Latinate vs Germanic origins), we used the wonderful Joseph Decreux meme. This meme takes rap lyrics or other well-known quotes, and “translates” them into archaic language. Often with hilarious results.

After having a good laugh looking at some hilarious (yet school appropriate) memes, the students got their chance. Again keeping with the Hemingway theme that drove the course, I gave them an excerpt from the Simple Wikipedia entry on Hemingway. They then “translated” sections, with hilarious results.


Before: At home in Oak Park, Ernest wrote for his school newspaper.

After: In thine place of eating, resting and bladder drainage, he inked for the scholastic scroll.

Before: At home in Oak Park, Ernest wrote for his school newspaper. He tried to write like a famous sports writer, Ring Lardner, and he made his writing skills better.

After: In the vicinity of household near Oak Park, Ernest inscribed for his schoolhouse biweekly.  He attempted at composing approximative to noble frolic wordsmiths, such as Ray Lardner, and in result of that improved his wordsmith trade for the worthier.

Before: In 1917, Ernest found a job with the Kansas City Star newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri.

After: In the year 1917, the Kansas City Star newspaper, abiding in Kansas City, abiding in Missouri, supplied Ernest with employment.

Before: One reporter said: “Hemingway liked to be where the action was.”

After: A single reporter aforementioned, “Hemingway enjoyed to exist approximal to the location of heated activity.”

The best part about this activity is how much Hemingway himself probably would have hated it. Teehee…

Movie clip as text for analytical writing

In a writing class this summer, my 8-9 graders took a crack at writing about film. No easy task. Since they’ve been reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, we took a clip from the 1957 film to analyze and write a thesis on. Before watching, we gave them a glossary of film terms (stolen from Wikipedia, of course) and looked at some examples of story boards. Hitchcock has some good ones.

Step one: Watch the clip with a critical eye. To make sure the kids watched it looking for small details, we had them create a story board for the clip, one sketch for each shot. Our kids are lil’ perfectionists, so this step took a bit.

Step two: Discussion. We asked them what filmic elements stood out the most. Maybe it was Henry’s hand slamming down on the sugar cubes he had lined up. Maybe it was the dramatic music. Maybe it was the warm colors of the bar compared with the cool colors of the hospital. Lots of options there.

Step three: Thesis statement. This has really been the focus of this summer class: writing good thesis statements. And these kids pulled through. Although new to film analysis, they produced some good analytical thesis statements that could eventually be developed into decent essays. So proud.

Student examples after the jump.

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All hail the almighty quote burger!


An oldie but a goodie. Using a burger as a symbol for how to effectively integrate a direct quote in an essay, we discussed today how to:

  1. give context to a quote (top bun),
  2. quote the original work (burger patty),
  3. cite correctly (bacon, because it ain’t worth nuttin without the bacon!),
  4. and relate the quote back to the topic sentence of the paragraph and thesis statement of the paper (bottom bun, without which the whole thing falls apart).

I stole a thesis statement from SparkNotes, and paired it with a quote from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (which they recently read), and we put the two together as a class.

It took some prodding but we got a nice end product:

Initially a means of alleviating the pain of war and private grief, their affair continues to serve the very practical purpose of masking life’s difficulties. As Henry and Catherine are in the Milan hospital, they discuss past relationships. Henry lies about it, but Catherine doesn’t mind. She says, “It’s all right. Keep right on lying to me. That’s what I want you to do. Were they pretty?” (91). She lets him lie to her in order to suppress memories of her late fiance and potentially harmful knowledge of her present lover.

Not perfect, but not bad for rising 8th and 9th graders, eh?

“Yippee ki-yay, zombie apocalypse.”

For one of my grad school classes, we’ve been working with some gifted 9th-graders from minority backgrounds. I love these kids. They’re hilarious. We’re working on a unit to promote social change through journalism, specifically blogging, so we’re attempting to improve their writing skills, both informative writing and argumentative writing.

To introduce informative writing, we started with a game. It’s like one of those ice-breakers you may have played, where you write a story as a group, each person writing the next sentence. Except for this one, the prompt is an actual lead paragraph from a news story, and they each need to write the next few sentences of what might have appeared in the newspaper.

We encouraged our kids to be creative with it, and they were. More than one story suddenly turned into a report on the zombie apocalypse. Like this one:

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Like I said, these kids are hilarious. If you can’t read it from the picture, you can get the jist of it from the title of this blog post, an alleged quote from Bruce Willis, of Die Hard fame.

However, the assignment proved to be more useful than simply giving the kids a creative outlet; we gained valuable information about how their writing skills currently stand. Not bad, in my opinion. I think we’ll have fun with this unit.

You can find a free download of the prompts we used (taken mostly from the Chicago Tribune) after the jump.

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Shakespearean Sonnets and Other Stories

Ah, the sonnet. For my English literary history class near the end of my undergrad I had to write a sonnet. According to my professor, the sonnet was the tweet of the Elizabethan age. I’m not on Twitter, but I imagine 140 non-rhyming, non-metrical characters would be easier to write than a sonnet. But that’s just a guess.

Today’s post comes to us from ReadWriteThink, which has a plethora (yes, I said plethora) of lesson plans and other resources for the English teacher of any grade level. Discovering Traditional Sonnet Forms by Jaqueline Podolski is one of their better examples. This lesson plan is set up for three 50-minute class periods, and has students read, analyze and write sonnets. Her step-by-step instructional plan is very detailed, allowing even for teachers less than fluent with the form to intelligently and creatively teach the sonnet.

What I really like about Podolski’s lesson plan is her use of sonnets from many different eras, like Gwendolyn Brooks’ “the sonnet-ballad” from 1949, which is used to initially introduce the form of the sonnet. Shakespeare, of course, is the king of the form, but using more modern bards will show students that it isn’t quite dead.

However, I was most impressed with Podolski’s method for introducing the sonnet’s poetic formula – she doesn’t. The entirety of the first class period has the students in groups looking at three different sonnets, and discovering for themselves what rules the form entails. Students might actually remember what the rules are if they have to work to figure them out, instead of simply glancing at a handout or powerpoint! Genius!

Here’s the link again. Enjoy!

NYT’s “Thank you, thesaurus.”

I’ve been tutoring this middle-school boy in language arts for the past few months. He’s a super smart kid, but only puts forth an effort if he really wants to. For his class’ poetry unit, he wrote a poem called “Stuff and Things.” The product of a mind taking the day off. I feel like too often he settles for the first word he thinks of, instead of searching for the word, so I’ve been looking for ways to expand his vocabulary, and push him to find the right word to express what he’s thinking. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon this great lesson plan, courtesy of the New York Times.

The New York Times is an invaluable resource, for many reasons. Pillar of the journalistic world. Apparently, they are aware of this as well, and have a rather comprehensive blog which gives teachers ideas of how to incorporate their archives in the classroom. Obviously, a lot of their posts focus on the social sciences and current events, but they have a lot of ideas for language arts teachers, too, including this lesson plan on thesaurus use and overwriting.

The warm-up activity features a paragraph from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby placed side-by-side an atrociously overwritten version. Students are asked to evaluate and explain why one is superior to the other, citing specific synonyms and the connotations that go with them. Then the students take their own writing samples and transform them into overwritten tripe. Lots of fun. The goal here is not to pick the easiest word, or even the most impressive word, but the right word. There is even an activity included which utilizes peer editing with thesauri, so students can help each other improve their writing.

You will hear me time and again on this blog push the importance of writing. Although I’m pursuing secondary education in foreign languages, I still think writing, and writing well, is one of the most important skills a student can and should develop. Ok, rant over. Enjoy the link.