Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Strategy: The Imposter

The Imposter strategy engages students in text which contains contradictory statements or factual errors. It was created by Michael J. Curran and Elizabeth C. Smith and featured in The Journal Of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (subscription required.)

This strategy can be adapted to any subject for students of any reading level. It teaches students deep-reading skills as well as an awareness that text is not always factually sound.

Depending on the level of students involved, a teacher might prepare her own statements for scrutiny by students or ask students to craft their own imperfect statements to share with others.

The recently-featured site is built on a very similar concept.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Web Resource: All About Explorers

All About Explorers was set up to help elementary-aged students learn about the pitfalls of finding information on the Internet. It features biographies of major explorers which contain factual errors, both subtle and blatant. The site also contains lesson plans and worksheets intended to guide students through the site towards greater information literacy.

This lesson plan, for example, compels students to consider the publishing process; books and most printed materials undergo many stages of editing and fact-checking while information on the internet enjoys less rigorous editing, if any at all.

All About Explorers was mentioned in this New York Times piece about the changing role of school librarians.

Lit News: The Future of the School Librarian

Stephanie Rosalia does not call herself a school librarian. She goes by "information literacy teacher," and she works at P.S. 225 in Brooklyn. She is featured in this great New York Times article about the changing role of school libraries.

Ms. Rosalia sees it as part of her job to help students learn how to navigate the internet safely and efficiently. She has found herself spending plenty of time educating teachers, as well.

The article also features a fascinating, if scary, discussion of the diminishing role libraries are playing in our schools. Funding is being cut and classroom teachers are compelled to work on test prep when they might have taken their kids to the library.

There is a companion video story about Ms. Rosalia on the site as well.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lit News: Nicholas D. Kristoff Op-Ed

In the New York Times, Kristoff argues that the stimulus bill is a tremendous chance for us to fix a broken education system. Here's my favorite part:

"Education Secretary Arne Duncan describes the stimulus as a 'staggering opportunity,' the kind that comes once in a lifetime. He argues: 'We have to educate our way to a better economy, that’s the only way long term to get there.'

Amen and Hallelujah!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Strategy: 100 Favorite Words

This is a simple idea that can be implemented in any type of classroom. Challenge students to make a list of their 100 favorite words. It can be completed over the course of a quarter or a whole year, and students can be encouraged to include words they learned in your class.

100 Favorite Words is a simple way to incorporate literacy into any subject matter and to build vocabulary. In addition, it can encourage students to further explore key concepts. A student of history might add emancipation, defenestration, or inalienable to their list, for example.

If this sounds like fun to you, check out this list of people's favorite words. And this one.

Web Resource: Primary Sources at The Library of Congress

Primary sources were once the province of learned historians with access to dusty archives. Younger students of history -and those who would teach them- had no such access and had to make do with secondary accounts in textbook and on film.

The internet has changed this. An ever-growing treasure-trove of primary documents is available online. Perhaps the best collection can be found at the Library of Congress's Digital Collections and Programs site.

It would be hard to overstate the vastness of this collection. Students can view the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination, watch 341 of the very first motion picture recordings by Thomas Edison, and read Walt Whitman's handwritten notebooks page-by-page.

The Teaching With Primary Sources Program from The Library Of Congress is a great resource for teachers who would like to put primary sources to use in their classrooms. One teacher highlighted on the site says that her students are "mesmerized" by audio recordings of slave narratives, for example.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Web Resource: Word Clouds

A word cloud is a visual depiction of the main words and ideas of a text. Word clouds evolved from Tag Clouds, which are commonly used to depict the content of websites. is a free (and addictive) way to create Word Clouds. A teacher or student simply needs to copy and paste text, select font and display preferences, and Wordle generates a word cloud. Here are some examples:

This fantastic interactive page from The New York Times uses world clouds to guide readers through every inaugural address by a U.S. President.

Word clouds are no substitute for the actual reading of a text, but they can provide a powerful visual preview of text and aid students in making predictions and forming questions.

Strategy: Making Predications

If you've ever read to children, you've probably found yourself asking them before you turn the page, "What do you think is going to happen?" No doubt, the children were happy to respond with enthusiastic guesses about what was to come.

Dan Gilbert writes that the human brain is constantly making predictions about what is to come in the near and distant future. It is no surprise that nurturing this instinct in readers will help them gain a more complete understanding from the text in front of them.

This Education World page contains an example of using predictions for younger students. This site contains a treasure trove of links to other prediction lessons, including this one, a Directed Listening-Thinking Activity on Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.

Strategy: KWL

KWL is a simple literacy strategy that has quickly become a essential tool of literacy specialists. It stands for "Know, Want, Learn" and can be used to help students navigate a text.

Students start by brainstorming what they already know about the topic of the text. Then, they generate a list of things that they want to know. While reading, or while reflecting on the completed text, students make a list of things they learned.

This site from a University of Indiana course provides a good overview of KWL, as well as an example of what a completed KWL chart might look like.

KWL can easily be applied to Social Studies classes. It allows students to reflect on their understanding of an issue and focus their reading to fill gaps in understanding. Here are a few examples:

  • The site has a great 3-lesson plan involving KWL and state history.
  • The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development provides an example of a KWL chart for a lesson on the 1995 Kobe earthquake.
  • This teacher has a KWL chart available for download and has added an "H" to the chart, encouraging readers to think about how they will learn more about the subject.

Success Story: JEB Stuart HS, Falls Church, VA

Click here for an article by Carol Guensburg of about a school that sparked a turnaround in part by making literacy a priority in every subject. JEB Stuart High School "has boosted reading-proficiency scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests from 64 percent in 1998 to 94 percent in 2004."

All teachers at JEB Stuart have training in literacy; even math and music teachers have begun to weave literacy into their classes. K-W-L (Know, Want, Learn) is mentioned as one of the core strategies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Strategy: Mad Libs Debate

Mad Libs were first published in 1958 and have been popular with children ever since. Prompted by parts of speech, players fill in a template with words of their choosing and plug them into blanks in a story. The results are often humorous, and kids have a laugh while learning about parts of speech.

This activity can be altered to help students understand many aspects of literacy. This variation is intended to help students learn how to structure an argument and cite sources to support it. If desired, a teacher could provide students with editorials or opinion columns on two sides of one issue and stage a “debate” with the results.

Start by finding opinion pieces on two different sides of an important issue, such as American Idol. In this commentary , the author argues that the popular television talent show is an "integral part of the American landscape." Here, an author contends that Idol is a grotesque freak show.

Students will read one opinion or the other and, in groups, identify items A-F on our Answer Sheet. In order to do this, they will need to know how to identify an author's main argument, understand how that argument is supported, and be able to cogently offer their own opinion on the matter.

Once the answer sheet is completed, students need only plug items A-F into their corresponding spaces on the Argument Template.

A full answer sheet might look something like this. If you put those answers into the template, you have a rudimentary persuasive argument.

As you'll see, the activity did not create a perfectly-written argument. It does not flow all that well, and it is a bit redundant. But for our purposes, that might be a good thing. This activity gives students practice in identifying authors' key arguments and forming their own. Most importantly, it gives them an introduction to how those skills can be used to cite examples in persuasive writing.

Primary Source Scavenger Hunt

This lesson is intended to strengthen students’ skills in finding and analyzing primary sources. It can be conducted over one or two class periods, depending on group size and the age of the students. It assumes that students have a basic knowledge of primary sources, including author bias.

Students choose a topic and use the internet to find the primary sources required. Using a template provided, they will analyze the point of view and possible biases of the author. Finally, student will write a brief account of the event using what they learned form their sources.
Here is an example of a scavenger hunt list:

Hurricane Katrina
o One interview of a victim of Katrina. Can be in print or video.
o Two videos of the Gulf Coast during or after the hurricane.
o A speech by a politician about the situation in New Orleans. Can be a transcript or a video.
o Five still pictures of the events of Katrina.
o Three primary sources expressing one person’s perspective on the events of Hurricane Katrina.

This exercise would be effective in strengthening basic literacy in students; it requires close readings of interviews and first-hand accounts. It is a great exercise for building historical and information literacy as well. Students will learn to examine documents critically and identify problems of bias and point of view.