Fort Herriman Middle School


Yeah, I’m Pretty Good at that!
April 16, 2008, 11:35 am
Filed under: lesson plan, teaching

One of the more important things that I teach my 7th graders is persuasive writing, and I think that I do a pretty good job, considering my lack of experience and skill. The way I teach it really seems to make sense to my students, and I know that it makes sense to me.

First of all, I go to this website called PocketMod, which is basically a place where you can create and print out your own mini-book that needs no staples or tape to work. You can even convert PDFs to this small form factor and have your reading fit in your pocket (I must admit this came in handy when I had to read so many PDFs for a few of my grad classes). I make a book like the one below and print it out.


This method requires half a period (our periods are 45 minutes) to teach introduction, one whole period to teach supporting paragraphs, and half a period to teach conclusion.

I have the paper above on an opaque projector (or as a transparency on an overhead) and write on it just like they do. That way, they can see exactly where things need to go. I tell them they only have to write what I write on the paper like theirs, so all our other discussion and comments don’t go there. They get a very specific formula to follow.

I give a blank one to each of my students and pitifully try to explain to them what to number the pages. I do this so that they can have a point of reference for the next steps, which need some reference points.

When this book is folded, each page represents a new paragraph in a persuasive essay (also known as a five paragraph essay). These are 7th graders, so they like it simple and wrapped in a nice package. The anticipation of being able to eventually cut the paper and fold it kills them. I do everything I can to delay that gratification. It is good for them, right?

So, on each “page” I take them through what is required for each paragraph in the essay. I let them do most of the teaching–that is, they call things out and I write it on the board off to the side while we discuss what should go where. Some of them have some background knowledge so this is a good way for me to get an idea of where they are at. Typically, though, we move through this pretty quickly. They give suggestions of what should be in each paragraph, and then I eventually tell them what should go there, and they suggest what should be written. It is all pretty straightforward, and they can easily make sense out of the words that I give them. They usually give an answer very close to the “correct” answer (correct in this instance means, worded the way I like it to be worded).

The other thing that makes this work well, is I give them a guide for what they can use when they are writing papers for me. I give them keywords and key phrases that trigger what is supposed to come next.

Key for the image below:
Black text: The important parts that will be in every persuasive essay they write until the day they die!
Blue Text: The explanation of the black text, just in case you ever forget.
Red Text: Keywords they can use to start that section/sentence/paragraph/whatever.

Why do I teach persuasive organization like this?

  1. Simple plug-and-play types of writing that are different enough (as this one is) will help them score well enough on their big important writing tests.
  2. Middle school kids are all over the place when it comes to organization (and I am sure that has something to do with their out-of-control bodies).
  3. It is much easier to grade them for their organization skills when they all follow this same pattern and use the same words.
  4. It is much easier for them to focus on the other five traits if organization, the trait that can hold them up, is very easy to do.
  5. I enjoy seeing them feel like they are writing a good paper (even if it is not) because it is well organized.
  6. This works. My students’ writing scores were much better last year than the year before, and I had a lot of ELL (or ESL or LAL or whatever other names there are for kids who don’t speak English at home).
  7. When they know what goes where, the rest of the good writing practices will come
  8. It doesn’t take that long to teach, and the rest is just practice (it takes 2 full 45-minute periods, but I do the intro paragraph on the first day, and then have them write two or three to practice their hooks–then the middle paragraphs on day 2, and about 15 minutes on the conclusion).

I do really enjoy teaching them to write a persuasive essay in this manner. This method gives them enough help that even the really poor writers can write a decent paper at the end.

If you have anything that I should add to the lesson, please let me know so I can include it for next year.

Have a Good Life.
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Spirit Bears and Totem Poles
April 4, 2008, 10:18 am
Filed under: teaching

I had a spiritual experience in my first period English class today.

We read Touching Spirit Bear in my 7th grade English class this quarter, and I didn’t think the students were getting much out of it. It was my first time teaching it, and I didn’t do a very good job teaching it. They mostly read it by themselves with little discussion about it. I should have done a better job. I will do a better job next year, Department Chair.

For the totem pole assignment at the end, the kids needed to draw a totem pole and write about it. I didn’t give my first period class much instruction about it, and then gave the other periods more instruction. The things these 1st period students turned in were amazing.

One girl wrote about how her dad used to be an alcoholic and how he has not had a drink for 3 years. Then she started crying. She was not crying because she was embarrassed, she was crying because she was so proud of her dad. She let me read the rest of her paper later, and she had so many great things in there.

Another student read his, he drew the World Trade Center and told about how they thought his dad died there. Then, he said his dad didn’t die, but friends did die there. Then he said, “I just want to ask God to bless all those heroes and victims of 9/11.” It was so heartfelt and honest; it was not part of his written explanation.

These two students were just part of the whole class doing an amazing job. I didn’t think that they really understood a lot of the book. They showed me that they did.

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25 Days Update
December 14, 2007, 8:52 pm
Filed under: service, teaching, technology

Well, my students discussed, brainstormed, and came up with some great ideas for how to make a difference.

One girl, the resident genius, suggested what I think is the best idea. She wants to make a website for gratitude. People will be able to go to the website and type in a message of gratitude to someone. The web form will then email that message to the recipient. I think it is a great idea. Hopefully, it will work.

The next idea was to do something with Freerice.com. After talking about it, we decided we would try to have the library full all day with shifts of students trying to raise rice for the United Nations. I think it will work really well, but we might not have enough time.

The last idea is one that I came up with, but it will still help. I gave the kids the idea, but they have done most of the work so far. They are making a SWAT team wiki. It will be a place that students can go to for information and tutoring. It is a big project, also. We will be working on this all year. I am very excited about it. I did blogs with my students last year, and I think this will be a good thing to do.

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Thanks for the optimism, brother but…
May 14, 2007, 2:12 pm
Filed under: teaching, testing

My class average for my ninth graders on the CRTs was 48.68/85 (57%) and my seventh graders scored an average of 69/82 (84%). I figure by posting this now, I can get my info out before it shows up in the newspapers, and therefore it will be old news by that time.

The good news is that now that I have been through it, I know how to prepare for it better next year. Even though I will not completely teach to the test, I can still improve my teaching. I will be requiring more writing next year, and I hope that will help my students do better. I will also hopefully give more tests than I have this year. Being in a testing situation often does help them do better on tests. I just didn’t have time to write tests. When will I ever have time for anything?

In other news, I signed up for my ARL courses to get my license. I will take four courses this summer and they recommend that I only take two. After this summer, I will only have two more courses to take, and then I will have my required courses completed. I am really excited to get this done. 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Cleaning Up the Organization Mess
January 25, 2007, 2:08 pm
Filed under: education, teaching

Okay, I fixed the comment moderating. I didn’t know that I set it up that way. Sorry, sheesh!

One of my students suggested that I hide a dollar in the mess, and tell my students that if they find it, they get to keep it. Well, I thought about it and decided that they would probably make a bigger mess. I asked my last class if they would clean it up, and they all did it without complaining. They didn’t have a problem. 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The Vicious Cycle
January 24, 2007, 4:02 pm
Filed under: education, new teachers, relationships, teaching

Some of my students don’t have very good lives. Low-income, low self-esteem, low expectations for themselves. It is tragic. It hurts me to see it. One of my students today refused to do any work because she is having a bad week. Sadly, this happens 2-3 times a week and so it has become a bad habit. I had my own struggles growing up and finding out who I was. The thing that my students do not understand is that they can change, both their lives and their situation. They need an advocate and someone on their side. Most importantly, they need education. Education can change their lives in ways they cannot even dream of. If they want to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty, they need education. It is their best key at getting out. They live in a cycle that drags them down and once they are in it, the task of getting out is overwhelming.

My sister spoke about another cycle that is difficult to get out of. Once you get upset or mad, it is so much easier to stay upset and mad than it is to be happy and positive. Usually, you need someone to educate you about how to be a better person to be able to pull yourself out of it. I believe that we all have a little bit of godliness in us. We have absolute power inside of us, but we need to find a way to tap into that. In my sister’s case, the staff at her doctor’s office taught her how to tap into that. For my students, I (and every teacher) needs to be that one person that can help them tap into their powerful reserves. They have the potential in them, but it is easier for them to continue in their vicious cycle than to strive to change their surroundings.

I will be forever indebted to my sister, Andrea, and her husband, Jason, for lighting that light in my mind. They provided the strong hand that I needed to guide me out of my painful choices and on to the road that I am on now. I am truly happy. I did not get here on my own, and I can only pay back those who helped me by helping others who need someone like them. 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Organization
January 9, 2007, 4:51 pm
Filed under: lesson plan, teaching

I am trying to teach my 9th and 7th grade students about organization. Sometimes the best example is the null example. So, when my students came into class, they were greeted with a giant mess. The desks were strewn all over the place, and there was paper all over the floor. The really great thing was that they were not expecting anything like this. I am really particular about how the desks are organized and they were blown away that the desks were strewn all about the room.

My tardy policy is that students must be in their seats when the tardy bell rings to be considered on time. So, with one minute left in the passing period, I let them into a room where their desks were strewn all over the place. Obviously, only one or two students were able to get in their seats in the right place. So, most students got a tardy. Later in class, I reorganized the desks how they should be and told them they could remove the tardies if they all were in their seats in less than a minute. They all did well with that, and nobody received a tardy. We talked aobut how it was easier to find your desk and be on time when the room is organized how it should be. They seemed to understand that well.

They needed to come up with five reasons why organization is important in writing. They mostly did well on that. One student had a really interesting idea: your writing should be organized to help save wildlife. He said that the wildlife is saved because when you are organized you don’t waste as much paper restating what you already said, and your rewrites are more apprpriate and you don’t need to rewrite as much. Although he was trying to be a smart-alleck, he did make a good point when he was pressured to continue developing that thought.

The reason the floor is so messy is because I passed out their papers by throwing them in the air. They could, if they wanted, get their papers from the floor and some of them tried, but it was very difficult to find them when they were not organized.

The lesson ended with them trying to organize themselves for getting into their seats within 30 seconds. Only one class made it in that short time. The others were not able to organize themselves at all. So, it appears that there are still struggles to overcome, but hopefully, it made an impression on at least some of them.

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