Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Storyboarding whaaaat?

Our last item for Harris Burdick: storyboarding! This is best used in conjunction with a Reading Cinema unit from John Golden's Reading in the Dark (Get it. Use it. Love it.).

You could get the most out of this if you've already talked to students about film terms like camera angles, camera movements, lighting, etc. Even if your class hasn't covered those yet (or don't intend to) you can still use basic terms students already know based on their casual film-watching (close-up, soundtrack, low lighting, zoom in/out).

OK, so here's the idea. Somewhere in your standards, you need to have students dissect visual media for mood/tone/conflict/theme, right? So, take it one step further and have them put it back together again! Here's the basic setup for a storyboard:

...and repeat! The box includes a rough sketch of the scene. Above the box, identify which shot it is - is it the beginning of the movie, shot #1, or is it towards the middle and #23? Sound includes any sounds of the scene like traffic, people talking, etc. or the soundtrack. Encourage students to describe the soundtrack - is it low, quiet, tense strings or is it loud, exciting rock music? The lighting - is it a natural, sunny day or dark, low candlelight? Camera movement - does the camera zoom in/out or sweep over the landscape? It may remain still, too. That's okay. All of those different items are going to contribute to the mood/tone/conflict/theme. It's difficult to express a sinister mood with bright, natural sunshine. Students have probably seen many films - tell them to follow their instincts!

You have a blank storyboard, ready to go. Choose one of the Harris Burdick pictures


and inform students that this is the illustration of one of their storyboards.
Model how to complete the storyboard by completing this together as a class. Ask students to (roughly) copy the picture into a box (give them a nice big box to work with), reminding them that you aren't expecting Leonardo da Vinci here. Once they complete that, flesh out the scene a little more. Start first with sounds of the scene (water lapping pier, roar of engines, etc.) and then invite students to come up with a soundtrack. Move on to lighting - Dark and shadowy? Bright and open? Where/what is the light source? Is it clear light, yellow, red, blue? What about camera movement? Do they want the camera to zoom in/out from here, scan the landscape or remain still?

Once you have satisfactorily completed the first installment of the storyboard, set them free to now take the next step. Tell them to number the scene you just did as a class, but they can all have different numbers. If Susie wants this scene to start her movie, she would assign it #1. If Chris thinks this occurs towards the middle, he might number it #23. Now they get to create a new storyboard. They can choose the scene just before or after and number it appropriately. (Susie's would be #2; Chris's might do #22 or #24) Give them about 15-20 minutes to create, and then share!

From here, see if you can get students into groups and blend or combine their practice storyboards into about 5-10 scenes for a short film.

As a closing activity, ask them to look at their storyboards and briefly explain how they think the sound/lighting/movement create a mood/tone/conflict/theme, challenging them to draw out those abstract ideas from the media.

Extra Credit: Here's an explanatory video about storyboarding. It's a bit long, so perhaps you could just show a portion. And if you want a little bit more background for your teaching purposes, check the Wikipedia page on Storyboards.

A New Perspective

There might be a lot to tackle in one lesson, but let's give it a shot.

If you can, find a picture of a traffic accident, preferably a basic fender bender that depicts a police officer. If you can't find one that works for you, set the stage with your words. Ask students about the different perceptions of the accident (and my sophomores who are just starting to drive usually have strong opinions about driving and other people on the road!). Who is at fault? What do you think Blue SUV driver would say happened? What would red sedan driver say? Let's pretend the policeman was across the street and saw what happened - what might HIS perspective be? What about someone in an apartment building, looking down at the street?

If it works for your classroom: act it out! Have someone stand on a desk/table to be the guy in the apartment building, let a few kids mime the drivers, have another stand off to the side as the policeman (giving someone a ticket? grabbing coffee?). This might help some of the kinesthetic learners. It might also help encourage students to create a dichotomy between the drivers; it seems there's usually there are some disagreements over whose fault it is.

Angle, attitude, and personal knowledge all factor into a perspective. The police man's explanation of what happened would be very specific and legal, because that is his personal background. The two drivers will probably have different opinions on whose fault it is. The joe-schmo in the apartment building saw things from above and since they were observing more of the whole picture, s/he may have even seen something else outside of the two cars that influenced the accident. Once you can differentiate between the different attitudes, see if students can translate this accident into literary perspectives. Who might be first person? Third person limited? Third person omniscient?

You knew this was coming, right? Break 'em into groups or let them do this independently. Assign groups/individuals a certain perspective: write a short paragraph telling the story of this accident in first person, third person ltd, third person omniscient, or (if you're brave) second person. Break down the first person into first person SUV driver, first person cop, first person sedan driver. Give them just a few minutes to write (3-5) and aloud!

When you get to the first person perspectives, take a moment to talk about unreliable narrators. At this point, you'll be able to talk about the potential "believability" problems with perspective. Could both drivers experience the same event and tell it differently? What motivation might they have for telling the story the way they do? Remind students to think about a fight they've had with a sibling. When retelling the event to a parent, did your story (or your sibling's story) reflect the ABSOLUTE TRUTH of the event? Was there some disagreement over who started it? Why is that?

Remind them that characters in a novel - even our narrator - can be the same way. We have to be careful to evaluate the reliability of the narrator. What motivation would s/he have to hide or avoid the whole truth? You could pull out a short excerpt here from an unreliable narrator if you want to focus on that more. Or you could leave it at that, let it simmer, and return to it later.

OK, so you've talked about perspective, even hit upon unreliable narrators, now what? Harris Burdick, welcome back. Select one of the pictures (or let class choose), and break students into groups (if they aren't already). Actually, at this point, I would do the opposite of whatever I did with Application - if they were independent before, break into groups; if they were in groups before, go back to independent writing. Assign each group/individual a certain perspective and ask that they write a story about that picture using that assigned perspective. Give them time to write...and then read aloud! See if the class can determine which perspective it was, identifying aspects of the narration that told them so.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Watch out! #3

Oh look at me go. I promised 5 activities using the Harris Burdick mystery portfolio as a jumping-off point, and I'm halfway there. Let me check my bag of tricks...and oh, yes, I DO have two more waiting in the wings! *phew*

What do you want to do today? How about genre writing?

Now, most of my 10th graders already come to me with a basic knowledge of genres, so a genre-based lesson might be best for middle (5-8) levels. Still, the great thing about writing workshop, though, is that it can be laid-back and FUN. You could still use this lesson as a fun (if you find it so) refresher on genres, without having to beat them over the head with loads of notes and definitions about genres, since the upper level kiddos have a handle on it.

We're going to skip any introduction because we're going to assume the kids already have working definitions of genres.

Option 1

As a class, create a list of possible genres. You can keep them modern-library-categories like fiction/sci-fi/fantasy/historical fiction/mystery or get even more specific or challenging with persuasive, poem, nonfiction, drama, fable, etc. Break students up into groups - recommended for groups 2-4 (no more). Give each group one of the portfolio pictures. As a class, choose one genre; everyone will write a short blurb (or start a story) for their portfolio using the chosen genre.

After your assigned time is up (10-15 minutes?) read the stories aloud, and as a class, ask Were there any similarities that recurred throughout all the stories that we could identify as a characteristic of the genre?

Option 2

This is basically just the opposite of Option 1. Once you've broken students up into groups, choose (at random or via class vote) one of the Harris Burdick pictures. Then, assign each group a different genre; they must use this genre to generate a story from that picture.

After your assigned time is up (10-15 minutes?) read the stories aloud, and as a class ask, How did you know the genre? What techniques are common to the genre that make it identifiable?

You can give these options as much or as little time as you want, really. If it were my classroom, I would probably do Option 2 twice. The first time, I would assign genres, so that kids are forced to challenge themselves a bit. Second time, I would probably change the picture and then let groups choose their own genres. And, of course, read aloud and talk about genre characteristics.

Extra Credit: I found this thread where teachers swapped ideas on teaching genre studies, especially in the middle levels. Thought it had too many fun ideas not to share!

Source: inspired by Classroom Poster - Literary Genres

Monday, April 26, 2010

Show, Don't Tell

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

You and your students are working on writing, be it creative, descriptive, or otherwise. You get a lot of this:
He was hungry. He wanted a sandwich. He was full after he ate the sandwich.

You can hear the Charlie Brown "wah wah" from here, can't you? You thirst for adjectives; you starve for lively verbs! You have a hunger that can only be quenched through the satiating string of vivid descriptors, variable clauses, and dynamic syntax!

So I will give you the ingredients for your students, so they can whip up a tasty meal. I call this my "Show, Don't Tell" lesson.

You might want to start by explaining how we've turned the phrase "Show, Don't Tell" from the common, elementary school activity "Show & Tell." Good tales let the words show us the story. We can see it/smell it/taste it/hear it/feel it when we read. We're right there in the story.

Pull up the Show, Don't Tell powerpoint. In this writing lesson I focus on two elements: character & setting. We've already talking about direct characterization versus indirect (good time to talk about inferences there), so we bring that up again. If actions speak louder than words (you could incorporate this phrase & its truth into the introduction discussion), then we can best get to know our characters by seeing them act. Similarly, how does the author establish a clear setting? Is it just by telling us the weather and color of the landscape?

Notes & Checks for Understanding
Follow through the powerpoint, looking at models of good "Show" examples, talking about why they're good & what they reveal. Stop before slide 5 and handout some sample paragraphs students can keep for themselves. Have them read over the three paragraphs in the table at the top of the page. Take a quick poll on which one they think is "Okay," "Better," and "Best." Continue on, talking through the examples on the screen, asking students to identify the elements that make the writing stronger, more vivid. Try to get them to use the parts of speech (verb/adjectives/clasuses) when they talk about the examples.

Finally, slide 11, stop and have students look again at the paragraphs at the bottom of their pages. Have them read and decide (think/pair/share or independently) which is which. If there's any confusion, here's the chance to slow it down and go back over any examples as necessary. Assuming all goes well (and it will, because your kids rock), take your first step towards application.

The last slide asks students to take a "tell" sentence and turn it into a "show," by expanding it to three sentences. You could ask students to do this independently or in pairs. Don't give them too much time - 5 minutes, tops. When time's up, share! See if classmates can identify which "tell" sentence was originally chosen. Talk about how they knew which one it was.

And here returns Mr. Burdick again. Choose one of the portfolio pictures (via teacher vote or class vote) and put it in front of them. Tell them you want them to apply what they've learned now about creating a picture through their writing. You'll give them about 20-30 minutes to "show, don't tell" what's going on in that picture.

Afterward, have students get in groups and share their "showings." You could even tweak the last part so that you could let students choose which picture they want to use, and then see if classmates can determine it.

Materials: Show Don't Tell ppt, Show Don't Tell Student Notes

Source: Gateway Institute workshop; excerpts of examples given credit where I can remember

Saturday, April 24, 2010

While you wait

Taking a weekend break. Stay tuned for more Harris Burdick on Monday!

Here's something for while you wait:

"The Teacher Tearjerker"

Friday, April 23, 2010

Harris Burdick - Who's there?

What else can you do with Harris Burdick? Let's talk about writing for an audience.

Start with a whole class discussion on the idea behind audience. Why would an author need to be mindful of his/her intended audience? And why (or how much) do we, as readers, need to be mindful of that audience as well?

Questioning for discussion
As for modeling, I might start with a simple picture or anecdote. How would students describe/relate the picture or anecdote if they were talking to their friends? How might they change that language for Mr. Principal? What about their parents? Their bosses? Younger siblings?

What about writing it? How would your language change from Facebook to a text to a (personal) journal entry to an online blog to a school essay?

You'll probably get that stubborn kid who insists he wouldn't change for anyone. Who cares? He uses the same language to talk to his friends as he does to his ma (and oh, doesn't it show?). But I think with proper thought about different audiences, students will be aware of their language. Breakout for Application: In fact, it might be a good idea to not only question students but also ask for a few to come up and give a little skit. Or even call for a quick breakout for pairs to create a dialogue based on a given audience - just two or three minutes.

Now that they've had a chance to think about the impact of audience, turn your attention back to writing. Let the pictures speak to the students and inspire a story. As before, you have two options:
  1. present all the pictures to students and let them each choose their own picture; or
  2. choose (or student vote) one picture for the class
Tell them that they will be using the picture (or choose their own) to develop a story, remembering to keep in mind who is their audience. As a class, you might first want to come up with a possible list of audiences. Now, for audience, you also have a couple options:
  1. Let students choose an audience. After writing, ask or select students to read aloud. Have classmates speculate on who the audience is meant to be, and how they knew that.
  2. Assign each student a different audience. After writing, ask/select students to read aloud. Have class talk about how they know it meets its audience.
In both the above examples, if your kids can handle constructive criticism (if you've established that trust in the community of your classroom), students could even give suggestions for how the story could better direct to its audience.

Ok, to be fair, you could really do this activity with any picture or set of pictures (in fact, one great resource for powerful pictures is Boston Globe's The Big Picture). But the Burdick ones are just so incredibly intriguing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Harris Burdick, Idea 1

So, whacha think? Did you look at Mr. Burdick's work?

The great thing about those pictures is that they almost all have some sort of latent action - something JUST ABOUT to happen or in motion. They also almost all have some kind of little detail that adds meaning (or confusion).

What can we do with these? I recommend purchasing a set of the portfolio (also available in book form), so you can take each picture and laminate it.

I'm going to challenge myself to come up with 5 different ways you can use these pictures.

The first way you can use these is probably the most obvious:

Creative writing - present students with the image and see where they take it. Have them create their own plot and complete the story. Don't give them any limitations or any certain focus - just ask them to let this inspire their writing. They can tell the what-happened-next or what-led-to-this. Let the creative juices run!

Options for working independently:
  • Put up all the pictures and let students choose which speaks to them
  • Put up one picture and ask each student to write his/her own story

Options for working in groups/as class:
  • Present one picture and ask each student to write one sentence, then pass it on. Each person adds a line to the story.
  • Present each group with a picture and ask them to jointly create a story, letting them decide how they want to do it (conjointly, one line/section per person, etc)
Now, since we know that grammar is best learned in context, make sure that they save these stories for future grammar review.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Who doesn't love a good mystery?

My English friends, do you know Mr. Harris Burdick?

If the answer is "No," as it was for me my first year of teaching, you are in for a fabulous treat.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a collection of black-and-white drawings with a fantastic story. According to Chris Van Allsburg (who you might know as the author of Jumanjii or Polar Express) and his introduction to the portfolio of work, a man calling himself Harris Burdick arrived in the office of Peter Wenders, a children's book publisher, in 1954. He brought with him a collection of fourteen drawings he had done for fourteen different tales, one picture for each story. Each picture was accompanied by a title and caption; Peter Wenders, like anyone who sees these drawings, was captivated and agreed that he would love to see the fourteen stories (and other drawings) that accompanied his art. Burdick left the original fourteen with Wenders...and was never seen again.


They have since all been published as the collection known as The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and I think you'll agree that the pictures evoke a strong sense of curiosity. Burdick (if he in fact existed in any form) chose these pictures wisely in trying to sell his tales. They are perfect for yarn-spinning.

I encourage you to Google this Harris Burdick and see what you can find of the images online, then return here and let's talk about the possibilities.

p.s. if your answer to my question was "yes," please pass along my admiration to Mr. Burdick. I'd ask to hear his original stories, but then again...I think it's best left undone, eh?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Need a smile today?

What I love about teachers: we can find a way to make a lesson out of just about anything. A viral picture on the internet? Lesson. An advertisement with confusing grammar? Lesson. The current Billboard Hot 100 hit? Lesson.

And sometimes, The Powers That Be make it easy for us; all we have to do is order the poster.


Have you seen this? It's full of hilarious, ridiculous cartoons...and INTELLIGENCE. The creator, Matt Inman, has three grammar-based cartoons:

How to use a Semicolon

How to Use an Apostrophe

10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling

Now, I will make the disclaimer. On the 10 Words poster, he uses the phrase "a-hole" and refers to an inebriated panda bear. In some schools, this could fly. At my previous employer, I think I would have gotten more flack over the inebriated panda, honestly. Really, neither one would have been fabulous, but well...rural Bible Belt. You get the idea. The point is: know your school.

They include hilarious graphics and cartoon additions to nearly each example. The sentences and examples are seemingly random and unusual, which makes them perfect to fuse with those young neurons. Check 'em out!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday, Monday

I haven't posted any new lesson plans/activities in awhile, have I? I'd love to share some of the more fun things I've done in the classroom. I was hoping, in fact, that I would have some items I tried with Life of Pi to share with you, but unfortunately that plan changed! (my replacement read Life of Pi with them 2nd semester. Advanced honors kids LOVED it and it was a mixed bag from the others; unfortunately many kids weren't reading anyway, so it was a rough six weeks grading-wise. One girl had the audacity to get upset and ask, What does it take to get an A in your class? Um, read the book, Punk. I digress)

The main reason I haven't been sharing has been that my external hard drive with all my powerpoints or worksheets is still packed away, in a manner of speaking. I currently have no desk; the desk I had in TN was particle board and had already suffered one move and was showing signs of wear. The mover representative advised us that it wouldn't survive the move, and I agreed. We pitched it and now all my desk contents are organized against the wall in our office where I want to put my eventual desk. I've been living with my computer on the floor in the office or more often in my lap in the family room when actually in use. It's too hard to lug the external hard drive around with the laptop, so I've left it in the organized pile. Guess I'll need to work out something soon, though.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Worth Bookmarking

This is fabulous.

A fellow EduBlogger, Hedgetoad shared a link to a great website devoted to captivating young male readers. It's called, obviously enough,

They seem to focus mainly on providing suggestions for books that appeal to the XY chromosome, categorized from "sports" to "people being transformed into animals." The website has a bold, simplistic style infused with the humor of Jon Scieszka. This is definitely worth bookmarking (I'm adding it to my portaportal as soon as I finish here. That's how important you are, Reader. I must tell you about this before saving it myself).

Poke around, and happy hunting!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Teachable Moments - Teh Interwebz

This is a cute story and a teachable moment:

A month after the pampered pooch's birthday bash, Ravelo, a recent college-grad from UC-San Diego, posted the photo on Facebook to give her friends a good laugh.

"I thought it was the funniest picture I've ever seen," she tells

That day, John Lipari, a friend of Ravelo's, saw the hilarious photo online during an evening class, posted it on, and catapulted Riley into overnight viral superstardom. Countless blogs and Web sites, including The Huffington Post, caught on to Riley's winning grin, branding the Bichon Frise-poodle mix as "The Birthday Dog," "Smiley Riley," and the "Stoner Dog." One Web site even Photoshopped the smiling puppy into the arms of President Obama.

Cute, right? That "smile" is undeniable and simultaneously cute and creepy. Show it to your class and have a good laugh over that.

And then, some food for discussion: where did this photo originate? Let's look at that again...

A month after the pampered pooch's birthday bash, Ravelo, a recent college-grad from UC-San Diego, posted the photo on Facebook...

Teachable moment alert. She posted something on her own Facebook page for her friends or family to see. Even if her photo album security was set to "Only Friends" (most people's are actually set to "Everyone" and they don't even know it. Use Facebook but know what you're using!), this could have still happened. Why? Because a friend saw it and cross-posted/copied it to an entirely different website. He took her photo and posted it somewhere else, in a more public forum, making it accessible to international. I'm not trying to beat this guy up because clearly, it's a cute/harmless/adorable picture.

My point here is: what if it wasn't? What if it was, say, a child? I would feel comfortable sharing pictures of my child with friends, but I would not be happy with that picture getting shared with the entire Web. What if it were a potentially embarrassing picture? Again, something you wouldn't mind sharing with friends/family, but wouldn't want to expose to say, your boss, potential employers, clients, or in-laws. It happens, even from well-meaning friends.

I think that latter part is what might speak to teens. With the recent hot-button issue of sexting and other incriminating-photo-sharing, teens think: "Well, if I send it to my BF or GF, I can trust him/her because s/he's my boo." They don't entertain the possibility of "What if we break up? Will I want him/her to still have that?" because they never get past the former question (oh, but we won't!). This story is an excellent example of a well-meaning friend who shares your personal life with the Web at large.

Maybe kids wouldn't get this one, either. But it just really struck me as a teachable moment, and I think it's a good reminder for teachers and students alike to just be aware that what you post online always has the potential to be exposed to the world at large.