Response Journal

The response journal is a rather simple method of keeping students’ minds on what they are learning when reading a text.  The page is divided into two columns, with one column dedicated to the text itself while the other is left blank and available for the student to record down anything he does not fully understand, or is new to him or her.

In a way, it is very similar to the Rate Your Words activity, albeit for larger ideas instead of simply vocabulary.  This activity would also work well as part of their review process before a summative assessment, once again having a predefined structure to condense all what they have learned in their own words.

An example of the Response Journal:

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Seven Elements

There are multiple factors that come to shape ones writing.  Who are you writing for?  What is the level of understanding of my audience?  What does my audience want to know?  The Seven Elements in writing allows students to overcome these obstacles when attempting to take on a specific role and write to a specific audience.  The Seven Elements are as follows:


  1. Summary – give a brief description of the purpose and back ground of the writing assignment.
  2. Role – A specific character, job, or position the student will occupy when writing.
  3. Audience – an imaginary group with their own roles that will be reading the assignment.
  4. Form – the format of the writing assignment, whether it be an essay, a letter to the editor, etc.
  5. Purpose – what is this assignment intending to accomplish
  6. Focus points – what you want them to focus on as a teacher
  7. Procedure – A play-by-play description of what the student will be doing to tackle his assignment.


This Seven Elements can be used for any writing assignment.  In addition, in my personal experience, does not have to contain all seven distinct elements, nor be laid out so formally.  The intention is to give the students guidance, not to overwhelm them with requirements formality.  The following is an example of an assignment I gave to an 8th grade history class.  It includes many, but not all, of the elements, and is set up in a way easier for students to digest.


Name ______________

U.S. History



What is Propaganda?

This assignment is due at the end of the week on Friday after we have fully analyzed the components and purposes of propaganda.  However, please start considering your own imaginative and creative pieces of propaganda now.


Option 1


–          Create a piece of propaganda of a medium of your choice.  It can take the form of: A picture; A song; A poem; A Video


–          You are a propagandist by trade.  This job is what puts food on your table, so be sure to do the best job for your client!


–          Your propaganda will be viewed by the average citizen of you’re the United States.

Situation and Purpose

–          The issue your propaganda must address will be decided by you.  However, all issues must be grounded in a realistic and historical setting.

Standards and Criteria

–          Your work must take into account of all components we have discussed in class.

  • Target
  • Audience
  • Message
  • Symbol / Technique
  • Historical / Social condition

–          The historical context of your propaganda must be stated clearly including the time period as well as event.

  • Ex. “1776, Revolutionary War” or “1920s, Prohibition”
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Dialogical Writing / Reading

Once again focusing on the relationship between reader and writer, dialogical writing is an exercise that helps a potential author determines what the readers may desire to know about a particular topic.  By creating a series of question and answer prompts that build off each other, all subtopics within a potential writing assignment can be covered.  After completing this prompt, the Answer/Statement side can be condensed into the actual text.  One example is as follows.




The Seven Years war was the world’s first World War. What do you mean?
It was fought in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Why was it fought in so many places?
Because of entangling alliances and colonial aspirations of England and France. How did entangling alliances cause the war?
Various European nations allied with, and against each other, making a war between two countries involve the entire continent. How were England and France’s colonial aspirations a cause of the war?
England and France had colonies in North America and South East Asia and trading companies in India. Were any other continents involved?
Yes.  Portugal and Spain were on opposite sides, and their battles expanded into South America.  


This translates into the following paragraph.


The Seven Years War was the World’s first world war.  It was fought in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.  The war was caused by a series of entangling alliances and the colonial aspirations of England and France.  The alliances caused multiple nations to become embroiled in war on the European continent, while French and English colonial assets caused battles in North America and India.  South America also saw battles due to Portugal and Spain’s entrance into the war on opposite sides.



Dialogical reading involves a similar process, but in reverse.  An existing piece of text is dissected through a similar answer and question dialogue to analyze the article’s original meaning.  Let’s use the following article as an example.


The T-34 is the most produced tank of WWII and largely considered to be the most successful. Having been produced throughout the war, the T-34 was also being constantly revised and innovated upon, whether that be for technical improvements or production improvements.

Over the course of the war, the Russians managed to reduce the number of parts required for a T-34, while more than halving both its production cost as well as production time, even though experienced factory workers were constantly being sent to the front lines, to be replaced with women and children.


As I am not a WWII buff, let’s use the dialogical reading method to dissect the meaning




The T-34 is the most produced tank of WWII, and considered the most successful. Why is that?
The T-34 was constantly being revised an innovated upon to improve performance and production. What did that do?
Russia managed to reduce the number of parts needed to build the tank, while halving its production cost. Why did they need to do that?
Experienced factory workers were constantly being sent to the frontlines to fight, being replaced with women and children.  


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Managing Writing (And Type 1, Type 2 Examples)

Managing writing is a technique used to help categorize writing assignments into levels of expected information and style.  By defining and narrowing just what is required within a writing lesson, students would ideally feel better directed and more prepared to do them.  It can also be used to help emphasis one particular aspect of writing based on class needs.  There are a few different categories within this:

Type 1: Think Write:

Think write is a short writing assignment (no more than a few minutes and a few sentences) that requires students to draw upon previously knowledge to quickly brainstorm the topic at hand.  Without a predetermined right or wrong way to go about it, it helps students form a solid idea around the current topic as well as serve as a pre-assessment to help the teacher establish levels of previous knowledge within the classroom.

Type 2: Write Right:

Write rights are short writing assignments that, unlike think writes, focus on a student’s specific knowledge of the current subject.  It does not focus on the mechanics of the writing, but rather the accuracy of the content.  It can serve in the place of quizzes, helping teacher assess levels of student learning in the middle of a unit.

Type 3: Mark Write:

This type of writing assignments is much less free form that the previous ones.  The teacher sets out specific standards and points of focus that the student is expected to meet within this type of writing.  The usage of this assignment requires planning on the part of the teacher because its success or failure depends on the clarity of the points of focus given.

Type 4: Mark Two Write:

Mark writes can be considered the first draft, making this the second draft.  In addition to all the components of mark writes, mark two write includes peer reviews, helping students become more aware of potential problem areas.

Type 5: Publish Write:

The final draft, students focus on refining their written piece.  This assignment is judged both on its ability to meet the standards and points of focus given by the content teacher as well as rules of English language literacy.

Some examples of Type 1 and Type 2 writing within the area of social studies are as follows.

Type 1:

–          What biases can you spot within this article?

–          How did the way of life of people in this unit differ from ours today?

–          What would you do if you were placed in that time period?

Type 2:

–          Describe the differences between primary and secondary sources.

–          What are the components of propaganda?

–          Name two progressive era reformers and the issues they tackled.

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Interviewing the Author

Literature is a relationship between the reader and the author, and better access by the reader depends on understanding the original intention of the author.  Interviewing the Author is a group activity that attempts to do such a thing.  In this exercise, students work in groups of 3-6 people, with on student role playing as the author and the rest acting as the interviewers.  This exercise is ultimately not only for the benefit of the students within the group, but rather the class as a whole who act as audience to this mock interview.  The process is designed to help clarify difficult vocabulary and analyzing the meaning of the text.

I feel that this activity is particularly useful in the case of a longer piece of reading.  While jigsawing readings help narrow down the scope of the assignment for a group of students well enough, Interviewing the Author has the benefit of making the meaning easier to understand with the usage of “plain words”.  The downside of course is time management.  During our own attempt at this activity, a rather large amount of in class time went into planning out the questions and answers.  In a normal 50 minute class, this may be unfeasible.  Perhaps leaving the planning phase as a homework assignment of some sort would work better.

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Coming to Literacy

My path to literacy has always been intimately linked with education. It was, after all, partly through the repeated readings of a third grade history text book my parents purchased that I learned English. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that my parents were both immigrants and thus struggled with their own mastery of basic English, they were fairly adamant in my development of a long term reading habit for the sake of my own English abilities. While at first resistant (I was 7 years old after all, facing strange intimidating symbols), it took but a few years for me to develop a great fondness for reading.

While my love for literacy has not diminished, its form has changed. Lacking quite as much free time to read through academic text books and such, the majority of my reading material has taken the form of online essays and blogs. As what I’ve always read for has been the informative content within, the fact that the writing quality itself was sometimes poor has rarely bothered me.

But this broad range of texts I have absorbed has made me certain in one thing: literacy is not simply the act of taking in prose on a page. It is much more important for the reader to be able to form some sort of connection with the text, whether it be appreciation of the writing style, or a love for the content there within. I am literate not just because of my grasp of vocabulary and syntax, but because of my grasp of a wide range of ideas in a wide range of topics.

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Rate Your Words

As a student, one of the chief barrier to literacy is vocabulary.  The Rate Your Words handout is designed to give students a framework with which to organize and study new vocabulary they come across in a reading.

This activity not only gives students a way list out unknown words, it is designed to give students a way to gauge their own understandings and see their own progress.

While the goal of this handout is not unique, I personally liked it because it gives students something they often lack: a solid structure and format by which do better their vocabulary.  It should however be supplemented by classroom assignments that make use of the words listed out on these sheets to ensure even students who think they already know all the words still have something at stake for completing it.

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