CNN Student News

Surprisingly, CNN Student News has added tons to our 7th grade literature courses this year, and the trend is catching on in other grades.

We watch at least the top stories of CNN Student News each day, and normally we watch the whole 10 minute show.

Benefits and uses:

  • Students are sharpening listening skills.
  • Students are obtaining tons of background knowledge about the world.
  • Students are learning to right great summaries as they write a summary of a news story about once a week.  We’re moving from watching the story 3 times, to 2 times, to 1 time, to writing a summary of a story without being given a warning ahead of time.  We’ve introduced paragraph GIST summaries, and 20-word summaries using CNN news.
  • Students are CAPTIVATED.  Many watch it at home on the days they don’t have literature.
  • Students are talking about current events with their parents and they’re often heard talking about news topics in the halls.
  • The funniest result is that my students–many of whom are ELL–are becoming adept at word play.  At the end of each broadcast, Carl Azuz, the anchorman, makes a number of word plays about the final story.  Today we counted 8 or 9 following a story of a 40 foot tall rubber ducky.

I know I sound like I work for them, but I just love this show and all it is doing for my students.


For Julia, in the Deep Water

I’m currently attending the National Writing Project in Kennesaw, Georgia–it’s a dream come true!  This morning we did an activity to teach about reading, discussion, and writing about a poem.  Take a moment and read the poem we read:

For Julia, In the Deep Water

The instructor we hire
because she does not love you
Leads you into the deep water,
The deep end
Where the water is darker—
Her open, encouraging arms
That never get nearer
Are merciless for your sake.

You will dream this water always
Where nothing draws nearer,
Wasting your valuable breath
You will scream for your mother—
Only your mother is drowning
Forever in the thin air
Down at the deep end.
She is doing nothing,
She never did anything harder.
And I am beside her.

I am beside her in this imagination.
We are waiting
Where the water is darker.
You are over your head,
Screaming, you are learning
Your way toward us,
You are learning how
In the helpless water
It is with our skill
We live in what kills us.

—John N. Morris

Have each student have three colors to write with.

1.  Read it and mark anything you don’t understand with color #1.  Write your interpretation and rate your understanding from 1 – 10.  My first reading I underlined little and rated my understanding as a 9.

2.  Discuss it with a partner.

3.  Reread it with color #2 and mark up anything you don’t understand now.  This time write questions about the poem and rate your understanding.  The previous discussion and my questions brought my understanding down to a 7.  Discuss again.

4.  Reread with color #3 and mark what is still confusing to you and rate this reading.  Putting it all together and connecting it to our experiences as mothers and readers, my partner and I came to an understanding of the poem as a literal swimming lesson and all the ways moms/parents have to let their children go–especially in cases of physical or mental or psychological disabilities–including addiction.  Now I’m not saying that is the definite interpretation, which is what makes this a great activity for your students.

Unit Planning Resources

I may be nuts, but I just love to create unit plans.  We recently had two student teachers at our school, and one of them said when given the chance to create a unit plan, “We were taught to find unit plans online.  Why reinvent the wheel?”  I love using Internet resources, but I don’t think I’ve ever used an Internet unit plan as is.  Every class has different weaknesses and strengths, I gather a number of Internet resources and pick and choose what fits.  Here’s my process:

First, using Understanding by Design I create the top of my unit plan–the Standards I will teach, the Essential Questions and Essential Ideas.  
I google essential questions and ideas when I’m working on this as even if I don’t use them, they often spark good ideas.

Then I work on specific content and skills I need to teach.  Some of those, I lift directly from the Internet, like the Big6 skills.

I also decide how to assess students’ achievement of the standards.  Our goal as language arts and social studies teachers in this assignment is to give students their first experience in writing a research paper.  We will assess the paper using the 6-Traits Scoring Guide from Education Northwest.  I always use the 6-point rubric because the research shows that teachers often choose the middle number on a 5-point rubric.  a 6-point rubric forces you to make a choice.

At this point I also write an explanation of the assignment ROME explanation for the students.



Now the fun begins–looking for Internet resources/ideas which I can use to teach the content and skills.  For teaching content, I almost always go first to Prezi where I find many dynamic presentations which often have embedded YouTube videos.

Then I troll my Pinterest boards looking for treasures I’ve tucked away for when I need them, like this visual about research which I’ll print out and have the students put in their writing notebooks.I like to teach vocabulary with every read-aloud, so I let my fingers do the walking and look for units designed around specific books and look for vocabulary that is transferable from one book to another.  I put the vocabulary on Quizlet.  Here’s my vocabulary list for The Bronze Bow on Quizlet.

Since we are working of the skill of researching, I’ll show the students some of my favorite search engines and also teach them to use Diigo to store their research.  They can annotate and highlight their stored web pages there.  I also look for some scaffolding for research papers to help some of my students who struggle with differentiation.  Having grown up in the days when ALL your research was done in libraries and from books that you hoped were not checked out, I rejoice in the plethora of tools at our fingertips!

Written Conversations

I’ve been working on the best and most engaging way to have my students use written conversations to discuss literature.  When students discuss verbally, often the shy students hang back and don’t engage.  Plus, as I circulate around the classroom I get an idea of how discussions are going, but I really have no data to use for formative assessment.

I’ve tried Collaborize Classroom, which I love, but it was not as free-flowing as I would like.  I think it is best used for an asynchronous discussion for homework.

In the past, I’ve had students write in their notebooks and then pass them to each other which works fairly well, but the writing takes up a fair amount of time and slows down the discussion.

Recently I tried Today’s Meet, which is a backchannel site, and I am flag-waving fan.  It’s super simple to work.  You name your room (see screenshot), give your students the link, and you’re ready to roll.

I first tried it out in a professional development workshop I delivered and it was a rousing success.  Many teachers added to the conversation and made the presentation much richer through their participation.

In my class we first tried a whole class (19 students) discussion on Today’s Meet, which was a total disaster.  A discussion with the class divided into two halves was doable, but I’m going to set up rooms for each of my table groups next time.  You can save the transcript of the discussions and use them to teach discussion skills or use them for assessments.

The more things change…

…the more they stay the same.

My sister recently gave me four “Miss Read” books, part of a series written by an English country teacher.  I was reading Village Diary, written in 1957, and had to laugh at the following as it could be said today:

The child today, used as he is to much praise and encouragement, finds it much more difficult to keep going as his task gets progressively long.  Helping children to face up to a certain amount of drudgery, cheerfully and energetically is one of the biggest problems that teachers, in these days of ubiquitous entertainment, have to face in our schools; and the negative attitude, in so many homes, of “How-much-money-can-I-get-for-how-little-work?” does nothing to help them in their daily battle.

Action Research: Argument Reading and Writing

I just finished my Master’s Degree in Literacy at UNE–and my last project was so exciting.  I did an action research project about instituting the Common Core Standards at my school–Country Day School in Escazu, Costa Rica.  I focused on teaching close reading skills, using higher text complexity levels for short text, and argument writing.  It was a ball!  Here’s a link to the Action Research Paper.

CCSS & Reading

I am becoming such a big fan of the Common Core State Standards.  I’ve always felt like a pretty good reading teacher–especially once I began to thoroughly teach the reading strategies, which, of course, I still do.  But I have to admit that teaching the Common Core Standards has taken my teaching to a new level of accountability.

For example, before this year (my 1st year using the CCSS) I would show movies of books we read, and have casual, short discussions about the differences.  One of the CCSS has to do with comparing and contrasting various media:

RL.6.7 Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poemto listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, includingcontrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceivewhen they listen or watch.

So this year, I read The Lightning Thief to my class and then showed the movie.  While they watched the movie, my students took notes on what was different from the book.  They really enjoyed taking the notes and ended up with pages and pages of material.  Next task, write an compare and contrast essay.

W.6.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational tests to support analysis, reflection and research.  Apply Grade 6 reading standards to literature and informational texts.

I knew my class couldn’t  organize all that material without a structure except for a select few.  I gave a suggested format:

  • Introduction paragraph
  • Two things the movie left out.  Write why you think they were left out and whether you think they were good choices and why.
  • Two things the movie added.  Write why you think they were added and whether you think they were good choices and why.
  • Conclusion paragraph

They’re busily working on this as I write this post.  They have 50 minutes to complete their essay, so I don’t know the essay results, but I do know that focusing deeply on this work has caused students to think critically and ask great questions.

Photo credit:

Argument Reading and Writing

Since we’re implementing the CCSS at my International school in Costa Rica, I had to quickly study up on argument reading and writing.  I’d taught persuasive writing (letters and editorials) but never really taught argument writing.  I turned to George Hillocks, Jr., one of my go to guys, and he did not disappoint.

His book is written for grades 6-12, and I’m pretty much using the whole first half of the book which is about the basics of argument writing for my 6th grade unit.

  • For arguments of fact, we are studying mystery scenarios and writing up police reports which make a claim (who’s guilty) that is based oon evidence.  This is a great way to get the students engaged in close reading without having to push it as every word is important in solving the mystery.
  • For arguments of judgment, we will start with what makes a good mascot, move on to what makes a good leader, and move into the presidential race of today.
  • Students have yet to choose the argument of policy they’re going to make to change a rule here at our school.  There seems to be growing interest in banning uniforms.  The students will work on this in small groups.

But Mr. Hillocks does not stop there.  The whole second section of the book is amazing and gets more and more conceptually difficult.  There’s two more resources we’ll use later in the unit.  One is, an independent non-partisan website that looks at the pros and cons of controversial issues.  Another is, another independent non-partisan website that looks for what is true and not true in the news.  They’re having a heyday with both candidates after the debates.