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Category Archives for "Classroom"

Questioning Strategies

Question eggs

I love this questioning and review activity, is it perfect for the Spring and Easter season to bring a little fun to my classroom.

An eggs-cellent idea!

It’s about this time of year that supermarkets and pound (dollar) stores fill up with Easter goods. These little plastic eggs are a fabulous and cheap addition to your teacher-toolkit! They are great because the eggs come in 2 halves so you can put stuff inside. In my local store, you can buy a set of 12 plastic eggs like this for £1.

So as you can imagine, I have a whole load of them.

Ways to use your eggs in the classroom!

1. Question eggs!

Place a different quiz question in each egg. Pass them around and get students to answer different questions from different eggs. All you need to do is to make a list of quiz questions on one page. Print and cut them into strips. You can create enough so that everyone has a different question or you can double up and have two sets circulating at once. This is a great way to review material in a low stakes test.

2. Challenge and reward eggs

Fill some eggs with rewards and some eggs with challenges to generate a little bit of engagement in your activities.

3. New learning eggs

Break up your new learning/information and place it into several eggs. Then get students to do an egg hunt to gather all the new information. So I would create 10 slips of paper with our new learning on. You can’t fit big pieces of paper in these eggs so you have to be concise. One strategy would be to number the slips and have students make sure they’ve gathered all of them. Or you could challenge your class by telling them there are 10 pieces of new information, they have to find them all and then get them into the correct order.

Question eggs

4. Analysis eggs

If you are teaching a text, then you could place quotations or textual references in different eggs for students to analyse.

5. Writing eggs

For a writing task, you could place new vocabulary, writing techniques, different sentence structures into the eggs and students to self-select to create a success criteria or rubric for their own writing. I might choose to be a little more structured and include specific elements I want to see in writing. For example, one might say ‘simile’, another ‘metaphor’, another ‘personification’. I might also include instructions like ‘an 8-word sentence showing emotion’. Another might state ‘a character with a sinister motivation’. I have these in a huge bowl at the front and I ask the class to take 3 – 4, then they write these down as their success criteria. They can then return them and choose more.

6. Word Eggs

Introduce new vocabulary by placing sentences on slips into the eggs. The new vocabulary word could be in capital letters. Students have to work out the meaning of the new vocabulary from the context of the sentence.

As you can see there are loads of different ways that you can use these plastic eggs in your classroom,  just to add a little bit of fun and variety to your learning.

So if you see them in the shops this Spring, I would highly recommend picking while they are there!  If you would prefer buying them online, then you can find them here:

US Amazon*                                                            UK Amazon*

                                                   

*These are affiliate links. This doesn’t mean you pay any more or any less for the items shown. The price stays exactly the same. It does mean that I get paid a small commission if you buy these items using my link. It’s just enough to keep me going in cups of tea.

Question eggs

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The power of dual coding

Dual coding

This activity is great to use with any class and almost any topic area. It makes sense, doesn’t it? To mix words and visuals to aid memory. Our students now need to memorize and to retrieve information for testing than ever before. Dual coding is one way to help students remember.

What is dual coding?

Dual coding is combining 2 ways that the mind remembers things – most commonly in the classroom – this is words and visuals.

Here you can see the beginning of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy “to be or not to be”. The challenge for students was to come up with as many visuals to replace the words in the speech as possible. They could be as creative as they liked – as long as they could read the whole speech based on what they produced. You can see the word “whether” is replaced by the sun and cloud and the word “suffer” is replaced by a sofa! The aural closeness of these words is the memory trigger.

Dual coding

 

This activity isn’t a quick crafty task or something for a Friday afternoon. It took my students a good hour to think through each word in the speech and then work out how to visualize it. This close attention to the text is just another memorization technique. The very work of recreating it, helps us remember it.

I first did this activity with a group of students 5 years ago. They are now in their final year of education and English hasn’t been compulsory for the last 2 years. But when I see these kids around the school – they still love to show off for me how much of this soliloquy they can remember. So they have been through 4 full school years since they learnt this speech and they can still remember it. Dual coding works!

Here are some ways you can use dual-coding in your classroom:

  1. At the beginning of the year when you agree your classroom rules and procedures with students, use dual-coding to help students remember the rules. Even just a small card with one image on it can be an excellent memory trigger. Have your students create those visuals for you.
  2. Use dual coding as one of your stations or center activities, to review everything learnt in a particular lesson or unit.
  3. Ask students to dual code some knowledge or information at one particular center or station, then have other groups translate the dual coded work at another station or center.
  4. Use dual coding as a way to remember key concepts in grammar, spelling, punctuation rules, or maths.
  5. Give dual coded information as a starter or bell ringer task and ask your students to translate or explain it.
  6. Ask your students to dual code as a homework task.

Here are some ways you can use dual-coding as a literature activity:

  1. Visual note-taking or dual coding makes sense for lots of literature activities: to summarise the action of a text, to look at a character, a theme, or a setting.
  2. One-pagers are super popular at the moment for helping students review what they have read. You can read more about them here (on my friend Betsy’s blog).
  3. Use dual coding as an annotation tool for annotating or making notes on specific themes or concepts. Assign each theme or idea a symbol, then annotate this in the text and also track it in notes.
  4. Create infographics to explain ideas in a text.
  5. Use dual coded timelines to review the events in a story.
  6. Assign each literary device a symbol and use this to annotate a passage.
  7. Symbols are also great for annotating emotions, mood/atmosphere, authorial intention, social and historical context.

I teach symbols and literary devices when I am covering creative writing – we use them as marking codes as well. Then we also use the same codes for our literature units. Then we layer them up as we read through the text. Does that make sense?

Dual coding

 

If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). They are always fun, engaging, and designed to create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

Subscribe to my weekly teaching tips email!

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Hidden Content
29th December 2018

How to engage disinterested students

Teaching teenagers can be hard. Teaching teenagers who are disinterested, disengaged, and even (sometimes) disruptive can be really hard. So here are my two go-to strategies for when things are getting a little sleepy or even a little feisty in my classroom.

The two ideas are called: the class coach and the student helpline!

The Class Coach

I love this activity and use it regularly with both younger and older students. It’s great to use at any point in your unit of learning, but I especially like to use it on a day when we are tackling something tricky.

How to engage disinterested teens

The simple is very simple. One student becomes your class’s coach (football, hockey, swimming – whichever works for you) for the lesson or day. They are responsible for encouraging the team and keeping them focused. It is just that though because the class coach has to keep everyone on their best game throughout the lesson, they have to be fully engaged. They have to watch what’s going on, they have to see who’s winning, and who needs to support. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Nominate your class coach (at first I choose, then later when students are comfortable with the whole thing, I take volunteers).
  2. They are in charge of giving the class a pep-talk at the beginning of the lesson. Give them a time limit of no more than one minute.
  3. Keep your instructions to the coach clear and simple. Mine are: remind the class of their strengths and of everything they have learned so far.
  4. Sometimes we have a special hat to wear or a microphone or a flag (this depends on the embarrassment levels of my teenagers).
  5. So the opening pep-talk is aspirational, inspirational, and motivational!
  6. Then halfway through the lesson, the class coach has to review everything we’ve done.
  7. Again my instructions are: point out what we’ve learned, give a shout-out to students who answered questions or made good points, name students who you could see were working really hard.
  8. Sometimes (depending on the confidence levels of the coach) I might ask other students to nominate their peers for a shout-out at this point. Just in case the coach misses someone.
  9. Finally, at the end of the lesson, the coach can sum up. They should sum how the team (class) did. The only rule I have for this activity is that it is 100% positive. I tell my students that people don’t need it pointing out when they are struggling (they know they are struggling) or if they made a mistake (again, they know). So the class coach keeps the positive and lets everything else slide.

I hope it’s easy to see what the benefits of this activity are. It can take a while for my students to get the hang of doing a great job. I have to model what I want them to do – I generally do a whole session based on this as I am getting my classroom routines sorted at the beginning of the year. However, once they have nailed it. The class coach is something that students are begging to be.

Here is why I love it: it increases engagement, especially for the coach; it increases positivity because there is always something good about getting a shout-out and recognition; it gives the students a voice – and often what they see, I might not have seen.

Try it out a few times and let me know what you think!

The Student Helpline

I also love this activity! And thankfully, it is super easy to explain.  The idea is another very simple one: create a helpline in your classroom. You can use this activity at any point in learning as a quick recap or to generate more discussion. This year, I am adding a fake phone to my classroom to help!

how to engage disinterested teens

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pair up your students and have them stand or sit back to back.
  2. One student rings the help-line (yep, I literally make them say “ring, ring” and “hello student helpline” or “hello Frankenstein helpline”!
  3. The calling student then has to ask for more information what they have learned. As in “I really don’t understand the point of the letters at the beginning of Frankenstein, can you explain it to me?”
  4. The help-line (the other student) has to explain the idea/concept or information. Being back to back is key as it focuses students precisely on listening and responding directly to the question asked.

Obviously, this can be a whole class activity, where every student is sitting back to back. Or if you prefer you can have a student volunteer to man the helpline. They can come and sit at the front of the room, then other students can take it in turns to ask them questions.

This is a fun and engaging activity. It usually starts and ends with laughter. Yet there is a clear learning purpose involved. Students are practicing reforming their knowledge and understanding, these synthesis and summarizing skills are important.

Drop me a comment below if you try these ideas out and let me know how they went!

If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). They are always fun, engaging, and designed to create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

Subscribe to my weekly teaching tips email!

Sign up below to receive regular emails from me jammed packed with ELA teaching tips, tricks and free resources. Also access my free resource library!

Hidden Content

The Perfect Review Game for High School

This review game is perfect to help your students demonstrate their learning for any literature text. You can use it while reading a text or after reading to have your students prove their learning.

In this blog post, I’ll show you:

  1. The basic idea
  2. The extra challenge
  3. What it looks like
  4. How to set up the game
  5. Why it’s not as complicated as it sounds!

Card game image with text "the perfect review game for high schoolers"

The basic idea

The basic idea is that students build a card tower. The catch is that each card on their card tower has to demonstrate their knowledge of the ideas, characters, and the plot of a text.

The extra challenge!

It would be too simple to build a card tower with just information on it. Nope – that’s not enough for us. Here’s what the key to the challenge is: Each card has a sticky note with information on it. But each sticky note has to link to every other sticky that it touches in the tower.

Let me show you what I mean

In the image below, each card in lower zigzag pattern touches. The cards that touch either at the top of the V or at the bottom of the V have to have information on that connects.

So the sticky that we can see on the lower level states “Macbeth does not experience guilt”. This means that the card propped up against it must link to that idea. Perhaps with a quotation that proves this, or a reference to an event that links to this idea.

Even more challenging – the cards that make the horizontal support across the lower level also have to contain facts and information that link the ideas on the cards!

Card Tower with sticky notes on each card. Each sticky note has a different sentence on it.

The overwhelming benefit of this game is that students have to think and think hard about all the ideas they wish to demonstrate before they try and construct their card tower. The tower itself becomes secondary to their knowledge and learning.

How to set up this review game

  1. So for this activity, you will need some packs of playing cards (although other cards will do) and sticky notes (mini ones if possible).
  2. I place students in groups of 3 – 4 and then I give each group about 8 – 12 playing cards.

As this is a literature review game. So your students will need to know about your text. It is essentially a 3D game of dominoes. Here are the instructions I give to my students:

  1. Your job is to make the tallest card tower, but you must follow these rules or you will be disqualified.
  2. Rule 1: each card must have a sticky note on showing information from the text.
  3. Rule 2: you must show information in the following order – plot, character, theme, then back to plot again. So each sticky note will have information on something from the plot, a character, or a theme in a series, in that order.
  4. Rule 3: each sticky note must relate to the ones on either of side.
  5. Rule 4: the tower must stand with no support for 2 minutes.

It sounds more complicated than it is

The first time I use this review game, students get all caught up with what is and isn’t allowed. So I give them this example. Here’s is what a sticky notes series might look like from Macbeth Act 1, Sc 1:

Plot – Macbeth fights bravely against rebels trying to overthrow King Duncan –
which links to – Character – Macbeth is shown to be bloodthirsty and violent from the outset – which links to – Theme – The theme of rebellion is introduced as Macbeth is given the rebel’s thaneship – which links to…plot! But this time because the theme is rebellion – you could include anything from the plot on rebellion!

Image of card tower with text "perfect review game for high school"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 treats from my classroom

As I got ready to ‘go back to school’ this autumn, I found myself tempted to buy all-the-things.  I work hard to control my spending impulses, after all, I already have too many things in my classroom. I don’t need anything more, really I don’t.

So this year, I decided that I would choose 5 things I used (or loved) the most in 2017. And so, here’s my list… enjoy!

1. Post-it note tape

Every teacher loves a post-it note, right?! Well, I ADORE post-it note tape (see below). I use this tape for a thousand things. I use it to move to-do items around in my planner; I put notes on my wall calendar; I use it to annotate texts; leave notes on students’ work and desks. As this tape is ‘tape-shaped’; it has the advantage of being smaller than a post-it note and it is sticky all the way across so there is no chance at all of it being lost!

These are the links for post-it note tape:

UK link https://amzn.to/2AJAlXW  USA link https://amzn.to/2M1W8ic

Please note these are affiliate links. You should know that this item will not cost you any more or less than it would if you found it through the usual search function. I do receive a small commission for anything your order using these links. 

2. Cute paper clips

I know, I know, these paper clips are not entirely sensible. But I love these cute paper clips. I have 100s of them and use them for everything from tagging papers for grading together, to handing work back to students. There’s just something about using these paper clips that makes me smile.

Here are a few of my favourite animal paper clips!

UK link https://amzn.to/2OMCvIF US link https://amzn.to/2Mx34nK

3. Wire Mesh Messageboard

Most of the boards in my room are pretty static throughout the year. I use them to display work on particular ideas or texts we have studied but they don’t change regularly – partly because I don’t have time, mostly because they don’t need to. My students study texts for two years, so the information stays relevant.

However, I do have one board that I change every day. My wire mesh messageboard sits behind my desk and I like to use it to write funny messages for my students. I put up photos, memes, inspiration quotes, and amazing pieces of work. I also use it for our word of the day (today the word was ‘yield’) and for our debate topic of the day.

My message board is pretty small. If I bought it again, I would get a bigger one! Check these ones out…

UK link https://amzn.to/2vCSNfg US link https://amzn.to/2M1V8KY

 

4. My ECO coffee cup

If you follow me on Insta (find me here), it won’t come as a big surprise that one of my ‘essentials’ is a travel mug. I teach a lot of classes. Nine in fact. That’s a lot of talking every day. My ECO cups (yep, plural) are what keep me going. Especially now that it is getting cold and I am wanting warm drinks because the heating doesn’t work!

 

UK link https://amzn.to/2R8j0vV  US link https://amzn.to/2zDZfpo

5. All the stickers

I use stickers a lot in my classroom. Yep, teenagers love stickers. I use them to track excellent written work, I put them on the back inside cover of the notebooks (so my teen boys don’t get embarrassed) and then I send a positive letter home for every 5 stickers.

So with approximately 220 students coming through my classroom each week, I get through a lot of stickers. And I mean A LOT!

Here are just a few of the stickers I’ve used already this year!

I buy stickers from all over the place. I am an expert at spotting super cheap ones wherever I can. Of course, occasionally that means Amazon is my friend. Here are my go-to online sets.

UK link https://amzn.to/2DEOF5E US link https://amzn.to/2zD4HJ7

I’d love to know what the essentials are in your classroom! Why not drop me a note in the comments below?!

22nd September 2018

One amazing debate idea

I always need new ways to generate deep and thoughtful debate with my students. This one, is one of my favourites. This activity is called ‘Kill the Question’ and works as a quasi-CSI style lesson where students investigate a ‘question’ and decide whether to ‘kill’ it or ‘resurrect’ it.

Working up to it:

My senior Literature class needed to prepare for an extended essay by reviewing some great philosophers.  So prior to this lesson, students had worked in groups to research and present on a specific philosopher, or a period of history that saw some great advances in philosophical thinking.

The activity:

Kill the Question is based on CSI,  students gather evidence that enables us to debate on something more than opinion.

You can see from the image above that we “killed” two ideas: “the only truth is knowing you know nothing”, and “freedom is a redundant idea”.

Once I had introduced the 2 ideas, students returned to their philosopher research groups. I allocated each group cards of a specific colour.  They then used their prior presentation work to create evidence for or against this idea.

The students’ evidence was placed around the idea. We then debated it from the standpoint of each philosopher, what they might say to “kill” or indeed “resurrect” this idea.

I found that my students were able to make extended comments because they had prepared. But more importantly, they were able to tackle with the nuances and subtleties in each idea. They weren’t just talking out of their own experience or their own opinion.

Killing the Question with a literature text

It was then that I realised I wanted to try this activity with my younger pupils.

Speaking and listening is no longer a tested skill for us, but it is so important to develop thinking (and communication) skills. I thought Kill the Question would also be a great way to get my students thinking in more depth about a novel.

After all, think of the connections that students could make – links to themes, character and setting, links to context, links to other texts and writers.

My year 9 students were studying Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale and we took the bold step of using chalk on the carpet in my classroom to create our debate bodies!  Note – it did come off eventually, but only I after I scrubbed it…

How it worked

The idea we killed this time was Malcolm X’s quote: “Nobody can give you freedom; nobody can give you equality or justice.  If you are a man, you take it”.

This time students were given different colour evidence cards to represent a variety of approaches to this quote.

To begin I allowed students to write their “first response” to this idea on the carpet in chalk. Another learning point for me here: don’t even bother trying to discourage teenagers from making your dead body anatomically correct!.   I was pleased and surprised that I got a full range of responses, not just what they thought I wanted to hear, but what they really thought.

After this, I put students into small groups and gave them each a non-fiction text that in some way added evidence to the idea.  I had an in-depth article about the science of the murder gene, another on nature vs nurture, one on dictators and the world history of rebellion.

Students worked together reading this texts, summarising and annotating, then they chose evidence to support or oppose Malcolm X’s idea.   Their evidence was placed on different colour cards and placed around the body.

We began to discuss it, we debated every piece of evidence we had gathered so far. Again the results were really encouraging, students were presenting real arguments using a variety of evidence. They had to acknowledge counter-arguments and justify their reasoning.

Finally, I have each student some green cards, I asked them to find evidence from either of the texts we were studying (most chose Lord of the Flies) or from the contextual evidence we had gathered about Golding and Takami. Again, we then together looked at each piece of evidence.

As a class, we weighed it against our own thinking, what we felt to be true and we created a collection we were happy with.

The additional end benefit of this entire activity was that my students had, in essence, planned out an essay. Our cards and debate record became a very detailed essay plan.

 

My amazing classroom reading display

This gorgeous reading display is perhaps one of the best things I’ve added to my classroom in ages. And not just because I get to play Carly Ray Jepson songs in class… I cannot claim the idea is mine. But I do adore how it turned out!  Here’s how I went about it and how you can swipe the download!

This week I updated the display in one pokey corner of my classroom. It’s one of those things that I had been meaning to do for a-g-e-s. But because the space was generally well hidden by the 5 tonnes of stuff I accumulated last year, it hadn’t been a high priority. Karma happens, though right? We had visitors in school and my classroom needed to be pristine. Or prestige, as my students would say!

 

This cute rhyme is a play on Carly Ray Jepson’s song “Call Me Maybe”.  All my students ‘got it‘ as soon as they saw the wall. They groaned and shook their heads, enjoying a moment of teenage indignation. I then asked them for their best book suggestions. So it’s their book recommendations, plus a few from my colleagues, that I placed around the rhyme!  Read on to see how I made it and to swipe my files!

Before I get into the practical details – I wanted to give a shout out to the amazing Jessica Lawler from Joy in the Journey. Check out the ‘Read me!’ and ‘Pick me!’ labels in my books! Don’t you just l-u-r-v-e them!! They are also a sweet treat of free download, Jessica has them on her TpT store and you can download them for free >>here<<.

Ok, ok. I know what you want. Here is how you can get stuck into this in your classroom. It really is as simple as 1 – 2 – 3.

  1. Grab the swipe file with words typed out and ready to go. It is a PowerPoint file so make sure you can open it on your computer.
  2. Change the colors to suit your classroom decor.
  3. Print and laminate (you can totally see I didn’t have time to do this!)
  4. Cut out and pin up.
  5. Ask for book recommendations, grab the covers and print.
  6. Cut and pin these up too!
  7. Stand back and enjoy!

So all you need to do now is get the SWIPE file!

Transform your reading corner!

Love reading in your classroom with this fun reading display! Download your freebie now and click to receive regular ELA teaching tips, tricks, and ideas!

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29th August 2018

5 ways to use lolly sticks in your secondary classroom

If you’re anything like me, you have drawers or even cupboards of things you have bought for your classroom – just in case. I have about one hundred thousand lolly sticks*. Over the last year, I worked hard to use all-the-things. In the post, I am going to share 5 ways you can use all those lolly sticks in your secondary classroom!

1. Still great for names

Lolly sticks originally made their way into our classroom as a form of assessment. We wrote our students names on them. Then used them as a simple, low-tech random name generator. Well, they are still great for that purpose. You don’t necessarily need to use them as part of your questioning strategy every lesson. But mix things up using them every now and again.

Here’s what I do:

Hand out the lolly sticks to students at the beginning of the year. Set them a homework to decorate their lolly stick with their name and at least 2 images that show me something about their personality.

I stick them in a cup at the front my room and use them to:

  • select students at random to answer a question or perform a task
  • randomly assign pairs or small groups
  • choose students at random for a positive call, email, or post-card home
  • monitor missed homework (they get a red dot sticker on their stick)

So don’t discount using your lolly sticks for names still!

2. Bookmarks

Another way I use lolly sticks is as bookmarks for our class novels. We generally don’t have enough copies of our class novels to allow students to sign them out and take them home. In fact, often our teachers are sharing class sets of novels between and we have to juggle who is using the books during hour 1, hour 2 etc. I also don’t see my classes every day. In fact, some of my classes are one hour a week classes and I don’t see them except for that one hour.

So, bookmarks are one of the things that make my reading teaching easier. I used to use post-it notes and to be honest that was fine. But my lolly stick bookmarks have a two-fold purpose: they make a great bookmark and they can be used as a reading ruler.

Here’s how it works:

  • Hand out a lolly stick to each student in your class.
  • Ask them to decorate it with either a short quote about reading (I’d rather be reading) or a book they would love to recommend.
  • Then when we start reading I ask every student to use their bookmark as a reading ruler. I model it. We practise. Rewards are given out for those who are doing it right.
  • At the end of the lesson, everyone puts the bookmark into the book (at the right place) and returns to book to my box.
  • The next lesson I hand out the books out and students get to discover a new bookmark. Each lesson they get to see/use a new bookmark.

It’s an easy and effective way to keep everyone on track. No issues with different page numbers in different editions of the novel and an easy differentiation tool.

3. To help your study of literature texts

I also use them the most for extending and developing student responses to literature texts. Let’s take Macbeth for example. At some point early on in studying the text, I will hand out my unused lolly sticks to the students and ask them to write on them the names of characters, events, settings, themes, and relevant historical context facts. Once I have these I use them in a number of ways:

  1. Handout to students and ask them to link any class discussion to their own lolly stick.
  2. Ask them to form a question for the class based on their lolly stick.
  3. Challenge them to use their lolly stick information in any analytical writing we are doing.

To take this further, I then start adding lolly sticks with key literary terms on (foreshadowing), with text-specific language (sycophant for example from Macbeth), or with essay writing challenge sentence starters (e.g. another way this could be interpreted is…).

By the end of studying a literature text, I normally have about 150+ lolly sticks to use for any number of quick quizzes, revision tasks, or extension ideas. Even better, when I move onto a new text but want to spiral back to review Macbeth (for example) then I can just grab a lolly stick and ask the class a question.

4. Awesome vocabulary

Idea 4 is one that I use throughout the year and I use across multiple classes. Simply, anytime we find a new vocabulary word that we love (last year one class was obsessed with the word incredulous), we write it onto 2 – 3 lolly sticks and put them in our vocabulary post.

5. Puzzle Paradise

The final idea for using up all those lolly sticks is to create puzzles for your students to solve. These are great ice-breakers, quick fixes for when you need 5 minutes, or discussion prompts.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Lay about 9 or 10 lolly sticks side-by-side and measure them. I use 9 lolly sticks across (the odd number makes it a little trickier) which measures to be about 12cm high by 17cm wide.
  2. Print your image so it fits the measurements above.
  3. Glue across all the lolly sticks and leave to dry.
  4. Use a craft knife to cut the paper and separate the lolly sticks.

I hope you enjoy using these ideas!

*This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something using one of these links, you won’t pay any more but I will receive a small commission!

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Create a BANG this fireworks night in your ELA classroom

Pop Quiz! Which of these best fits you?

  1. My students love debating.
  2. I want to push my students to apply their learning to the real world.
  3. I think we can learn lessons from history.
  4. My students struggle to link literature to life.

If you answered “me, me!” to any of these 4 statements, then today’s blog post is dedicated to you. Here are 3 engaging classroom activities that: give your students a chance to debate; challenge students to stretch classroom knowledge to become real world knowledge; and help them link history and literature with their lives!

1. Research the man Guy Fawkes

It’s easy to forget that Guy Fawkes wasn’t the instigator of the Gunpowder Plot, the man and the money behind it was Robert Catesby. A wealthy farmer and Catholic, Catesby persuaded many of his friends that James I was a weak king and could be easily removed from power.

Guy Fawkes, however, was also not the bumbling fool often portrayed in cartoons. He fought in the Spanish wars against the Dutch Republic and was an experienced soldier.

If you and your students are interested in finding out more about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot – then check out my Guy Fawkes Hero or Villain resource on TpT.

After you have researched Guy Fawkes in detail, use these debate prompts (a sneak peek from above resource) to spark some deep discussion in your classroom.

2. Watch and discuss V for Vendetta

**Now a big disclaimer is needed here: V for Vendetta is rated a 15 here in the UK. The whole film is not suitable for classroom use.**

How do I use the film in my lessons to help discuss Guy Fawkes then?

Introduce the story: V for Vendetta (1998) is a graphic novel by Alan Moore. The story is set in a dystopian future where the United Kingdom is ruled over by a neo-facist regime. One night, 5th November, a freedom fighter attempts a revolution. He takes over the national media and makes a speech encouraging all citizens to join him the following year (on 5th November) again to start a rebellion.

Watch the clip:

Read the speech and discuss persuasion:

I have attached a file with V’s revolutionary speech here. We discuss rhetoric and persuasion here and compare it to other political speeches. Then we discuss V’s use of 5th November as a sign of positive revolution.

I pose the questions:

  • Is V rewriting history?  What is the evidence for your response?
  • Can we trust history? Can we trust historical evidence and facts?
  • What happens when history is altered or parts of history are forgotten?
  • How is history dangerous?

In his dystopian novel, 1984, Orwell writes, “who controls the past, control the future” – we discuss this and the truth of it in our world today.

If your students love V as much as mine do then I often let them watch these two extra clips: The 5th of November Overture and *spoiler* the finale scene (note this contains swears) and will also spoil the film for them – so beware!!

3. Write your own nursery rhyme

One of the best things about nursery rhymes is that they are all pretty gruesome in nature. If they aren’t warding off the plague, they are accusing you of being a witch.  The nursery rhyme written for the ‘celebration’ of failed Gunpowder Plot is just as brutal.  We study it for ‘historical accuracy’ and rhetorical techniques and then we create our own Gunpowder Plot nursery rhyme. Sometimes we cast Guy Fawkes as the hero. Sometimes a hapless fool deserted by his comrades. Sometimes we write about James and the Lords in Parliament. Occasionally we imagine the horror if it had succeeded. If all else fails – we create a visualization of the original rhyme with lots of gory detail.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

An extra sweet treat…

Check out this interactive Guy Fawkes game on the BBC History website.  Go to the Powder Plot Game here.

Ok friends

If you wanted to get your students debating; brief history and literature into the real world and challenge your students to really think, then this post was for you.

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