My Favorite Lessons of the Fall

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I’m not sure about you, but for me, these pre-Thanksgiving November weeks are always some of the hardest times of the school year. The heady energy and optimism of the new year have waned and the cumulative impact of the seemingly endless back-to-school requirements—cookouts and capsule night and conferences—combined with this being the longest stretch without a break, takes a toll.

And while nearly everything about this year has been better than the last three school years, I think that those years have left my reserve tanks emptier than before.

This is all to say that I am tired. Weary to the marrow of my bones tired. I send my bucket to the very bottom of the well, and I pull up a dusty pile of sand tired. 

And when I am that tired, I know that what I want more than anything else is for someone to toss me some resources and practical lesson ideas that I can adapt, if I want. So that is the plan for today. I’ll be back to digging into pedagogy and writing literature reviews soon. For now though, here are a couple lessons from the fall that worked well for me. Feel free to use, lose, or better yet, improve upon them and re-share them with me!

Lesson #1: Evident Evidence

When it comes to crafting arguments, many of my students struggle with evidence the most. My theory is that they have gotten so used to searching for key book quotes online or recycling the quotes discussed in class that when asked to find their own quotes, they struggle to find good ones. 

To help with that issue, I created this lesson this fall to help students break out of their online quote board dependencies (which I have noticed extend to students who’ve read the book too, potentially because they are self-conscious about their abilities to find the right quote). It began with a bit of direct instruction on what evidence is, what makes it effective, and what can be used as evidence:

I then asked them to give me random arguments they’d like to make…

…and the results were pretty funny: Who is the best Spiderman? Do pineapples belong on a pizza? Mechanical pencils vs. wooden ones vs. pens? Is vanilla really plain?

We then broke up into teams and used Pear Deck to engage in a competition where they had three minutes to take a stance on the random debate and then provide the best piece of evidence to support it. It is also important to note that no reasoning or explanation was allowed. The evidence had to be evident (or obvious to the eye or mind, the meaning of evident in Latin), which is a term that I kept trying to say to help them remember it. 

In the later rounds of the game, we then did the same thing with the book that we were reading (for this freshman class it was Of Mice and Men) to help them make the transition to the paper we were just beginning.

The results of this have been really promising. My freshmen just turned in their first essay and the quotes were crisper and more interesting than I’ve seen in freshman essays before. Further, the stronger quotes bled over into stronger claims and reasoning/explanations.

Lesson #2: Personal Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes are tricky for my students, which I think might have something to do with transfer, as many students, even after they understand them, don’t really understand the role metaphors and similes play in helping them to be better readers and writers. 

So this fall I created a lesson that both taught what metaphors and similes are and how they can help students to be better readers and writers. Specifically, the lesson looks at how a metaphor or simile can serve as a powerful extension of one’s voice, as they are basically rhetorical types of analogies (here is a good explanation of how analogy and metaphor are similar and different), and the analogies one turns to can say a great deal about us and where we came from. Here is how the metaphor and simile lesson goes:

The class begins with explaining what metaphors and similes are…

…and then continues with students reading Clint Smith’s “My Father Is an Oyster” and identifying any similes/metaphors they see:

The twist is that we then talk about why they matter and how they can make our reading and writing better. To do that I used the following slide and video from the New York Times Learning Network:

The students then play with using metaphors/similes to improve and personalize their writing by trying to come up with metaphors and similes to help to express feelings or experiences the students have had to someone who has not had those exact feelings or experiences. Some prompts that work well to do this are…

  • Use a metaphor/simile to express what a family tradition/holiday is like.
  • Use a metaphor/simile to express what the first day of winter break will feel like.
  • Use a metaphor/simile to help us understand an important person in your life.

Finally, students complete a targeted assignment where they play around with including metaphors/similes in their own writing and get some flash feedback on them.


I hope all is well and that you are making it through these often weary weeks alright. I’ll be back after Thanksgiving with some turkey-and-rest-fueled posts, but until then, thanks as always for reading!

Yours in teaching,

Matt

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