10
Feb

Language Arts Bingo: A Week of "Do Now" Writing

I wanted to find a way to keep my Middle School students writing often, but to do that, and to keep them from being overloaded with all of the large writing assignments and long-term writing we were doing in class, I tried to come up with some options for writing short-and-quick. I came up with "Two Paragraph Bingo".  The idea is to write just two paragraphs on a given prompt, and to complete a Bingo board by the end of the week.

Each prompt is open-ended, and provides the student the freedom to write with few constraints. They can write 2 paragraphs or more, but the purpose is to have them complete the writing in the time provided. I used a 10 minute time frame at the start of each class.  If a student is drawing a blank on one topic, they simply choose another. The idea is to keep using the same Bingo board until they complete a row.

I have a few different boards available waiting in the wings, and when they complete one, they take another. I've found, however, that the students who enjoy the timed writing will continue to use the same board even after completing a "Bingo".   I utilize marble notebooks in my classroom as our Language Arts Journals. They are used for notes, for quick writing assignments, for capturing research, for writing novel chapter summaries, and for creative assignments. We add photos, doodles, comics, and anything else that personalizes the journals and keeps them (and their classmates) revisiting each page. I also encourage them to add their own entries as well. The table of contents we've established at the front of the journal (the first 6 pages) allows me to find whatever I'm looking for when I grade them.

I've attached a sample of the Language Arts Bingo Board below. Feel free to try it out, and let me know if you've found it helpful.

LANGUAGEARTSBINGO-2

5
Feb

Middle School Non-Fiction Activity: The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping

One of the most engaging activities I do in class with my Middle Schoolers when we tackle non-fiction is our quest to find the real killer of the Lindbergh baby. You may ask, "How can that be? Bruno Richard Hauptmann was tried, convicted and executed for that crime 80 years ago!" Well, yes, he was. But the case was so flawed, it doesn't take an FBI-trained officer to see that the wrong man may have been blamed.  Or, possibly, been guilty but didn't act alone.  In either case, the students get into the story and background and are determined to find out who the real killer(s) are...

I begin with a two page summary of the kidnapping. You can find them all over the internet. Once they understand what happened, and view the key pieces of evidence (the note, the location of the baby's body, the home-made ladder..) and throw in the fact that it was a rainy night, no one knew the Lindberghs were even at their vacation home that night, there was no way anyone went down that ladder holding a baby... well, before you know it, the students will be throwing conspiracy theories, other evidence, and motives at you like hot potatoes.  The internet has the drawings of the layout of the home, aerial views of the property, photos of the ladder propped against the house, and a list of mistresses of Lindbergh Sr. that all lend credibility to the idea that he might have been involved.

I give them 3 days to search the evidence, work in groups to go over theories, and watch videos. Then they write a 5 paragraph essay with an introduction, thesis statement (focusing on who they think really did it, and why) and their body of proof to support their claim. On the day their papers are due, I invite our school resource officer to sit in on the class. They each informally present their suspects and motive, and the officer quizzes them and tries to disprove their claim. (Officer: What about footprints? Wasn't it raining out?"  Student: "Yes! They found footprints - same size as Lindbergh's!" Officer: "They found the baby's body in the woods." Student: "No! They found A body, probably not THE body. There was an orphanage nearby, and it could have been a baby from there!")  I'm always amazed at the theories and motives the students throw out during the discussion. It's obvious that they did some research, and I've heard from parents that it was often the dinner conversation each night for that week.

I also throw in a quick lesson on domain-specific vocabulary. In this case, we go over a list of police terminology so that when they are presenting, they are using words such as motive, indictment, evidence, conspiracy, alleged, felony, etc.  They love learning the terms and using them. And, you'll be surprised at how many CSI TV program watchers you have in your class!

I love this research/writing lesson because it gets my students involved in local history - the Lindbergh's vacation home where the kidnapping occurred is not far from our school in New Jersey, and that helps the students relate to it .  It is also a great way to practice formal essay writing and thesis statements and all that goes along with that. Oh, throw in public speaking as well.

Some links to get you started:

FBI information on the kidnapping

The American Experience on PBS: Lindbergh Kidnapping

NJ State Police Lindbergh Kidnapping Evidence Photographs

Lindberghfbiposter

 

4
Feb

The "Key" to Creative Writing in Middle School

The key to creative writing in Middle School is...  keys, apparently.

IMG_3210

Using ornate keys is an easy way to get Middle School kids excited about writing.

Inspired by a pin I saw on a pinning site, I searched for some inexpensive, ornate keys to use with my 7th graders in a writing activity.  We've been spending so much time working on structured writing - essays, formal letters,  responses to questions - I wanted to give them a chance to stretch their imaginations a bit as we began a new marking period.

Each key was attached to a tag with a single sentence on it. For example,  "This key would hold the answer to the mystery." "He put the key in her hand, and then gasped a final breath." "Under the pile of old books and papers...was a single key."  The tags were face-down on a desk with the key sitting on top.  As they entered the room, they were told to file past the desk, take a key that interested them, and then take their seat. They were not allowed to look at the tag until they sat at their desk. At this point, they had no idea what the activity was, but they were very intrigued.

Once all of the keys were chosen, the assignment was revealed.  Using the key as a muse, they had to write a story that incorporated their tag sentence into it. The stories were done on Google Docs, allowing us to share and edit easily, and most importantly, track our word count. The story had to be at least 1000 words.  This part got some moans and groans at first. They were a bit intimidated by the word count. But I assured them, they'd reach it quite easily as long as they developed their story using our plot chart. Setting and character development, dialogue, rising action, conflict, resolution... all the pieces would easily get them to their goal.

The rules we had in place:

  • Proper heading on paper.
  • Times New Roman 12 or 14
  • Title of story, centered and underlined
  • Dialogue must be properly written - quotation marks, punctuated correctly, and matching the character. New paragraphs as each character speaks in a conversation. All the things we've gone over, looked at, written notes on.
  • Due date written in their planner so they wouldn't forget
  • Properly edited - highlighted to ensure correct capitalization, peer readers, listened to using Google translate, etc. (We have a list of ways to edit our writing in our writing journals)
  • 1000+ words
  • The sentence on the tag MUST appear in the story, and must be in bold and red font so it can easily be seen.

After going over the ground rules, I did get some questions such as, "Can I do this?" and "Can I write about that?" and I said, YES! It's your story, so let your imagination go!  It wasn't long before I heard them calling out to each other their word counts, their tag sentences, their ideas.... they were in full writing mode.

Writing formally for academic essays and test response is certainly important. But the feeling that comes from being able to lift the restraints and boundaries, and watching what happens once Middle Schoolers let loose, is pure joy.  For them, and for me.