Last year at this time I did my first ever “Greatest Hits” linky as a reflection of the moments from 2015 that stuck out to me the most, and I kept track all year waiting to do it again! Needless to say, I am super excited to share these ideas with you – and this year they happen to all be things I tried for the first time. And… they are all things I fell in love with and will most definitely do again! So yes, even after 13 years in the classroom, I am still adding, tweaking, and trying new things! I hope these ideas inspire you to try something new in 2017!
1) The Green Light – Sometimes when I teach Gatsby, I get to teach the entire book, and other times I’m crunched for time and only show the movie and do close readings. Either way, I get my Gatsby fix and the kids love it! This year I just did the movie because our town was ravaged by an F3 tornado, so we missed several days at the end of the year. I knew I wanted to amp it up just a little and bring something special – as a little highlight – to the end of the year since our students had been through so much this month. I have to say I am IN LOVE my Gatsby green light display. Here’s how to DIY:
a) I projected a picture of the light on the dock that I found on Google images onto a piece of butcher paper taped on my Activboard. Once I traced it onto the paper, I just painted it with acrylic paint. It’s cheap and dries fast. I used black and gold to make it Gatsby-glam, of course. I painted the bulb inside green and added green glitter. The dock was even easier to make. I just drew lines with a Sharpie and painted in between with brown acrylic paint. I laminated the light and dock. Next, print the quotation “Gatsby believed in the green light” on green paper. Make the display and hang it up before the beginning of the movie/unit so students are curious and aware the entire time. For the “rays of green light” I just trifolded pieces of green construction paper and cut them.
b) As we neared the end of the movie, I gave students a sheet of excerpts to close read from the novel with all the green light passages. (This sheet and lesson, along with several American Dream exercises, can be found in my Gatsby movie guide.) I sent the sheet home with the QR code to a video link, which is a compilation of scenes with the green light from the “new Gatsby” movie. Students had to complete that assignment and be ready to discuss the next day. Boy, were they ready…. I had been talking up the green light the entire time and had my wall display ready all along, so they were itching to discuss!!
c) After the discussion, students completed the American dream prompt, and then I gave them the ray to write their own “hopes and dreams” on. Some wrote what they wanted to do after high school, and others wrote how they wanted to bring light to others’ lives. They did an amazing job.
d) Hang up the green rays and stand back and enjoy!
2) Yearbook Light Bulbs – Every year my yearbook staff does some sort of holiday event for everyone to enjoy. Last year we had a Halloween YearBOOk celebration with fun games. This year we made Christmas light bulbs for everyone in school: students, faculty, and staff. Each yearbook staffer has a list of students (so every student in the school is personally tracked for coverage), and they personalized every bulb by hand-writing the names. I scored a sale at Family Dollar on mini candy canes, so we stapled one to each bulb, too. We stayed for an hour after school one day and taped them to the correct lockers (our AP gave us the locker list), and teachers’ classroom doors. The next morning when the students came in, they were really surprised and thankful! It was a small way to say, “Hey, we are thinking of YOU, and we wanted to brighten your day!” Here’s how to DIY:
a) Get a list of everyone in your school and divide them up. Also, get the locker and room numbers!
b) Find a cute light bulb clip art and place them two on a page. Write in a cute note, and copy and copy and copy.
c) Find candy on sale!!
c) Cut, cut, cut and sign, sign, sign and staple, staple, staple! Another tip is to write the locker numbers of the back of each bulb before hanging them.
d) Organize a day to tape up the bulbs!
3) Lord of the Flies Crowns – This year I taught Flies for the first time with my regular track seniors. I wasn’t sure how they would like it, but as we got into it, we all realized how perfect the timing was to make text-self and text-world connections. I’m sharing about one of the final projects we did because, honestly, it give me cold chills. I wanted them to truly get the theme and title connection juxtaposed with their own lives, so I came up with this crown idea. (Everything can be found in my NEW Lord of the Flies unit plan!!) Here’s how you can DIY:
a) After reading Chapter 8, we did a paired info text reading to get some background on the Beelzebub allusion. (paired reading and notes included in my plan)
b) I gave students a crown (template included in my plan). They wrote/drew things on the crown that are “lording over” their lives. I told them to be honest – even knowing they are 17-18 year olds and being aware of what I could get. However, I did tell them they could be anonymous. Then they cut out the crowns, and we hung them up in the room for the remainder of the book.
c) On the day – or next day – you finish the book, get a paper shredder in your classroom. Once the boys are rescued, they are not only physically rescued from the island, but also they are symbolically rescued from those demons in their lives. Students take their own crowns and we had a shredding ceremony to symbolically indicate that they can be rescued from those demons in their lives, too. — Cue cold chills here. —
4) Macbeth “Witch-Inspired” Tasting Party – Who isn’t always looking for a way to bring snacks to class, right??!!? This year I decided I would surprise my seniors with a few little snacks one day! In fact, my students actually inspired my choices with their creativity during the first part of Act 1 when they were making their text-based Witches’ Party Invitation (included in my Macbeth unit plan). Here’s how you can DIY:
a) After reading the opening scenes of the play where Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches, I have students complete the Party Invitation activity. They are always so intrigued by the weird sisters anyway, and this gives them a chance to close read and be creative! They have use the text to inspire the food, games, decor, and more!
b) Shop for Mountain Dew (Witches’ Brew), Bugles (Witches’ Fingernails), and thumbprint cookies (Pilot’s Thumbs). Local bakeries usually have these you can order. BTW: Only followers of my monthly email newsletter got the cute food labels for free couple of months back! You’ll want to sign up HERE so you don’t miss anymore goodies!
c) After reading Act 1 and 2, I always pause to show a on-screen adaptation of the play. When students came to class that day, they were surprised, delighted, and thankful to see I had brought their ideas to life!
5) Writers’ Notebooks – I’ve actually tried the writing portfolio thing a couple times a couple of ways. This time around, I’ve improved my process, and it worked wonderfully. It’s kinda of a morph between a portfolio, data tracker, and interactive notebook. The premise is simple: Students keep all their writing in one place so they can keep up with it, and we can all see growth. Here’s how to DIY (the new and improved way):
a) Students buy – or you can provide – a one subject spiral notebook. I took a piece of ribbon and a large plastic coated paper clip to make a bookmark. I needed a bookmark because each time they wrote an essay or paragraph in it, I wanted to be able to flip right to what I needed to grade without flipping forever. I had them put their name in Sharpie right on the front.
b) Here’s where the “interactive notebook” piece comes into play, but not really. It’s just some cutting and gluing! On the first day, I gave them some key sheets I wanted them to keep up with: the data tracker (sold in my TpT store and pictured below), my marking codes annotation sheets, state writing rubrics, self-evaluation sheets, and graphic organizers. That way they always had them in one place. Throughout the semester, we added notes here and there. Even when it was a bigger task and I used the rubrics I make to give points based on state rubrics (pictured below), they just stapled those at the end of the essay, so it was all in one place.
c) As students wrote essays and constructed responses, I left marks right on the pages. One tip is to have them write on the fronts only if you are going to be giving feedback. It made it so easy for me to flip back to previous writing to see if they were gaining and taking my advice from previous tasks.