Category Archives: Lesson Ideas

Persuasive Techniques

We are studying propaganda/ persuasive techniques this week. So far, we’ve learned about bandwagon, snob appeal, testimonial, and transfer. Tomorrow, I plan on reviewing these techniques before adding a few more on Thursday. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to find some of these commercials on YouTube. I felt like it should have been easier. The Internet should have had them all there in a nice, neat place for me to search and click. Now it will. I hope these can be of use to you if you teach these techniques as well.

NOTE: I didn’t really find and classify these. I am pretty much stealing them from other people who did for the sake of compiling them in one place.


Snob Appeal

(This one almost caused me to spew Diet Coke all over my computer screen! It’s funny!)




Filed under Lesson Ideas, Persuasive Text

Theme and Symbolism

We are just wrapping up a study of theme and symbolism. To help students, better understand, I used a Pixar short.

When the students came in, their warm up was to brainstorm questions to ask themselves to help determine the theme or the meaning of symbols. We held a class discussion and created an anchor chart with our tips for each theme and symbol.

Then, we watched La Luna, which has sadly been pulled from YouTube in the past few days. I had hoped to post a link.

After viewing, students discussed the questions on the anchor chart with their partners. Then we discussed as a whole class. Finally, students wrote a response stating the theme and the meaning of the symbol (hats) in the short and validating their responses by citing evidence.

(The next day, we added the answers in blue on the charts as a review.)

Then, we read a vignette from The House on Mango Street, discussed the same questions, and wrote the same response determining theme and the meaning of the symbols and validating responses by citing evidence.

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Filed under Elements of Literature, Lesson Ideas

Livening up Literature Studies

We just finished reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I’ve had a wonderful time, and the kids have really loved it. They clapped when we finished reading it, and they asked if we could read another book next. (Yes, but we are going to study persuasive text first.) Still, towards the end, our discussions were starting to fall a little flat. My first thought was “Ugh, I need to just fly through the last 25 pages and get out of this book and onto something new!”  But then I realized, it wasn’t the book. It was my teaching. My lessons were great lessons, but our structure was too repetitive. Read, partner talk, whole class talk, parter talk, whole class talk, etc. etc. etc., write.

So, last week, we did our reading. Then I divided the class into groups and assigned each group a literary element or an important quote. I gave them some guiding questions to discuss and asked them to create a poster showing what they learn through their discussions. I gave them 15 minutes to do this, which allowed me enough time to visit each group and make sure they were getting what I needed them to.

Then, they hung their posters on the wall around the room, and we did a gallery walk. Kids traveled with their groups from poster to poster, reading and discussing their classmates’ work, and taking notes. When they were done, they all sat back down and individually responded to prompts about the theme and symbolism. They did a really great job!  Their spelling isn’t perfect, and I could have insisted they refine their ideas a little more, but I thought it was more meaningful to validate the growth they were showing rather than insisting on perfection. And their artwork is incomplete. I did only give them 15 minutes. If this were a graded assignment, I’d have given more time. I do think it’s important to let students express creativity and take pride in their work. That just wasn’t my goal this day.


Filed under Book Studies, Elements of Literature, Lesson Ideas, Student Engagement


One of my favorite student projects these days is Fakebook! As the title suggests, students create a faux facebook page for a character, an author, a historical figure, a scientist, whomever. I love this assignment for so many reasons. It’s obviously engaging. Students love technology, and then the play on social networking? Instant motivation and engagement. Because of that, students tend to naturally differentiate this assignment. If nothing else, they practice their skills with plot and characters. But those who can tend to take this much deeper.

Check out a student’s Fakebook for Maya Angelou. She created this after working in a literature circle studying I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She did her own research on Angelou’s life and accomplishments to make the connections seen here. I was especially pleased to see that she’s studied the connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because we’ve been studying him quite a bit this year.

If you choose to use Fakebook, here are some quick tips:
1. Students have to select a name, add a friend, update a status, and input profile information first. You cannot save until you do.

2. After this, have students save frequently. Computers and the Internet are unreliable.

3. Make sure students copy down their URLs in PERFECT HANDWRITING. Even my students with the best penmanship have mistaken an x for a X, a U for a V, an s for an S or a 5. If you don’t correctly record your URL, you’ll lose the work.

4.  Play the tutorial video for your students, but also watch it several times yourself.

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Filed under Book Studies, Common Core, Differentiation, Lesson Ideas, Student Engagement

Vocabulary Ideas

Have you ever been at a point in your career when there are so many different things you want to do that you feel like a totally ineffective teacher because you can’t pull them all off? Tell me it’s not just me! I have so many things I want to do, but if I don’t take time to slow down, I won’t do them well. So I live in the state of wanting to do more but trying to be intentional to accomplish things and make the most of my time with my students. One of the things I’ve been tempted to skip is vocabulary. It’s easy, and kids seem to understand the words after just a day or two with new words. But I think it’s so important that students really take time everyday to master and review words. So, here are some of my favorite activities for vocabulary lessons.

1. Context Clues – Before I teach new words, I give students sentences with context clues for the words and ask them to write predicted definitions. Today, I wrote one sentence with each word, printed the sentences on separate pages in large font, and posted them around the room. We did a carousel activity. Students travelled in teams. They had 45 – 60 seconds at each poster to read the sentence and write a predicted definition in their journals.

2.  Frayer Models


I always have students take notes for their vocabulary words in frayer models. I modify my model so it has squares for student-friendly explanations, pictures, sentences, and examples/non-examples. We discuss the answers to their context clues while I use a powerpoint with dictionary definitions and pictures of examples and non-examples to present the new words. As a closure activity for each word, students paraphrase the dictionary definition and teach it to a partner.

3.  Drawing Activity – Students have 45 – 60 seconds to draw a picture that helps them remember the meaning of a word. Then, they hold it up and explain it to their partner. I use the sentence starter “I drew this for ___ because . . . ” Then, I repeat this activity with each word.

4.  Example and Non-Example Cards – I cut construction paper into small cards. I give each student the same number of cards as we have words. Sometimes I give sets of cards to partners instead of students. Students discuss words with teammates. They write an example of a word on one side of a card and a non-example on the other. They do NOT label the card. After 5-10 minutes, students stand up and find a partner from another team. They trade cards and work to label their partner’s cards with the correct words.

5.  Fan & Pick – This is a fabulous Kagan structure for vocabulary. Put students into groups of 4 and give each group cards or strips of paper with the vocabulary wrods listed on them. Team member 1 fans out the words like a deck of cards. Team member 2 picks a card and reads it. Team member 3 defines the word. Team member 4 coaches and praises. I have all of these jobs listed on a table mat, and for the next round, they rotate the map so they can rotate jobs.

6.  Roll a Word – Put students in groups … again, I like groups of 4. Give each group a stack of cards with the words written on them and a die. Students take turns rolling the die. Assign different tasks for each number. I like to have them spell the word, define it, use it in a sentence, give the part of speech, give a synonym or an example, and give an antonym or non-example. Students take turns answering for a set amount of time. Whoever has the most points wins. Sometimes I give prizes like stickers or candy, but usually, I just tell them great job, and they don’t care because the activity was fun.

7. Crossword Competition – I use this crossword puzzle maker to create a crossword using our vocabulary words. I give one puzzle to each team and ask each student to use a different colored pen or pencil. Students work together, but they must take turns answering a crossword clue. The team who finishes first wins and gets to help their classmates with the clues that stumped them.

8.  Find Someone Who – I try to do this activity the day before a quiz or a test. I print a Bingo type table listing several vocabulary words and blank spaces. Students can them move about the room asking their classmates to define words. Then the student writes the definition from the classmate on their papers along with the classmate’s name. They can only talk to each classmate once. I like this activity right before a quiz or test because they can take the paper home to use as a study guide.

9.  Ask a Word – I usually use this as a center. It’s super fun! I got it from that Florida site. Give students interview questions and have them conduct a faux interview with their word. Kids like this because they get to be creative, and teachers like it because students think critically about their words.

10.  Likert Scale – Another Florida activity. Students create a scale showing one extreme in meaning to the other. Their vocabulary word could fall anywhere along the scale. I love this activity because it helps kids learn the nuances of words and helps them learn to choose the correct synonyms from a thesaurus. Plus, kids love it.

Ok, your turn. I know you have them! Fabulous vocabulary lessons … share!

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Filed under Lesson Ideas, Student Engagement, Vocabulary

Functional Text

When states adopted the Common Core standards, they were allowed to add a few things they thought were important. I teach in Arizona, and our state added a standard about functional text: maps, recipes, instruction guides, bus schedules, etc. Functional texts are quite literally texts you need to be able to interpret correctly to function in society.

Rather than teaching an entire unit on functional tests, I use them for additional practice on skills I’ve already taught. I do this because, for the most part, kids CAN find the information in functional text without too much instruction as long as they spend a good amount of time practicing and as long as they use their strategies like highlighting and Question Answer Relationship (QAR).

So, my first use of functional text this year was to reinforce a QAR lesson. I wrote 12 questions of various QAR about a nutrition label. My students sorted the questions and used a sentence starter to justify their choices. Yes, I am that annoying teacher who relentlessly asks “WHY?” and “HOW DO YOU KNOW?” Then, we underlined evidence from the label and answered the questions.

The kids got great practice with QAR, but I also felt really good because they got some wonderful real life experience reading a nutrition label. Now, they can at least understand the basics about the foods they put in their bodies.

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Plot and Conflict

Last week, we began studying plot and conflict. A few days ago, I shared the Jot Thoughts activity we used to build our anchor chart. Here’s one more idea for conflict and one for plot.

Conflict Magazine Sort

I’ve shamelessly stolen this idea from an amazing teacher I’ve had the pleasure to observe. She works in another school in my district, and she’s full of creativity and enthusiasm. So, my interpretation of her idea … I cut out lots of pictures from magazines and gave them to students. They discussed the type of conflicts they saw in the pictures and classified them as internal or external and character vs. ____. Then, we made collages to hang on the wall around our anchor charts. They’ll help us remember what we’ve learned.

And one humorous response … I had intended students to use the other side of this picture, but they trimmed it down to show their true thoughts about Justin Bieber.

Plot Lesson

Even though they were introduced to the idea in 7th grade, stages of plot is always a struggle for my 8th graders. Identifying the climax of a story just takes a lot of practice to get good at. So, I teach the concept as follows:

1. Define the term plot – the series of events in a story.

2. Picture Book! I read a picture book aloud for the class, and we pause for teams to note plot events … simple, the things that happen in the story. We cut out little squares and write one event per square. I like to use the book Elbert’s Bad Word by Audrey Wood. Elbert’s internal conflict is his struggle to control himself and not say a bad word, but the author personifies the word, so it’s quite easy to track the rising action … as the conflict grows more complicated. It’s also pretty simple to find the climax because all of the characters literally stop and stare at Elbert in anticipation of how the conflict will be resolved. Plus, it’s a fun book for older kids. They love that it’s about a bad word and are so angry that the book never tells what exactly that bad word is that Elbert uttered.

3. Introduce the stages of plot. We draw a large plot diagram into our journals and begin labeling and defining the stages. As we define each stage, we classify the plot events we listed on our sequence squares. As they do this, I post a plot diagram on the wall that will stay up all year. We’ll use it with all the stories we read.

4. Then, the students work as a team to arrange their squares onto their own plot diagrams. Even though we have already discussed each event and even labelled them by plot stage, I still find this activity brings up great conversations. They don’t all take it in the first time we talk about it as a whole class, and the small group discussions are great!

The result . . .

Next week, I’ll place out a literacy center students can choose. They will have several picture books to choose from, and they’ll create their own plot diagrams. We’ll also repeat the activity a few times as a class with shorter stories and with The Tell Tale Heart, our study for the week.

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Filed under Elements of Literature, Lesson Ideas