Today is the first day of content for American Literature, which means we are still learning routines. A key routine in my classroom is a warm-up posted for completion as soon as the bell rings. I've used vocabulary activities and grammar activities as my primary warm-ups in the past, but this year I'm choosing to use warm-ups which match the day's instruction instead. My hope is that these warm-ups will prove more effective in getting students focused on the day's work.
As soon as the bell rings, I walk in and announce that we begin our "Do Now" routine. I explain that students will be able to find the day's assignment on the class website and show them exactly where to go. Because today is the first "Do Now," I go over the activity with them, but after the first week, it is expected that they will begin without me. Today's assignment is to write for 5 minutes to answer the question, what is courage? I explain that a quick write like this is just about getting ideas to paper and that there is no "right" answer I am looking for when we discuss; this is intended to encourage all students that their opinions are valid.
While students write, I take attendance and then walk around the room to check for engagement. I read over shoulders and encourage shy students with interesting responses to share when we discuss. I give a 1-minute warning to "wrap up your thoughts" and ask for pencils/styluses down after exactly 5 minutes (it's important to stick to your word, after all, and reluctant writers appreciate set time requirements).
Again, extra instruction is needed as this is our first day of the routine. For class discussions, it is important to me that everyone can see, well, everyone. After all, it is respectful to look people in the eye when you talk to them. Our small classroom doesn't allow for such an arrangement to remain in place, so we need to move. For a short discussion, I ask students to bring their writing with them and form a large square/circle (we have to work around tables) around the outside of the desks.
Once circled, we go over basic discussion protocol. Because this is a class discussion, I ask students to look at everyone, not just me. I also give the power of choice over to them; they choose who will speak next rather than me. I encourage students to share differing opinions and connections to help expand our thinking. Then, I ask for a volunteer to begin. If no one volunteers, we wait, sometimes making the awkward turtle hands, until someone steps up to the plate. When the discussion begins to role, I ask students what trends they are noticing, helping them connect as needed. Students share:
After a variety of opinions have been shared and connected, I transition by explaining that courage will be a concept we encounter in all our unit texts, though it may appear in different ways. I ask students to think back to this concept as we read and discuss, and then I ask for them to return to their seats.
In our school, students study U.S. history as freshmen, making a wide gap for applying that history in junior English. After one notable year in which a student remarked that the American Revolution was the fight between the U.S. and Germany (and meant it), I realized that I would always need to review basic facts about the time periods from which our literature hailed.
I begin by asking what students remember about the American Revolution, making a list of their responses on the board. When the class is tapped out of responses, I explain that I would like to push a but further on our knowledge and introduce the assignment, American Revolution Top Ten. I ask students to find 10 facts which have not yet been shared and give them 10 minutes to research, working with table partners if desired. While they work, I circulate to answer questions and to observe their research process: do they choose reliable resources? Do they take notes word for word or summarize? Do they use a variety of sources? Because I haven't provided direction instruction on these research skills just yet, this isn't fully CCSS aligned, but it is giving me valuable information. These will be topics for future study, and my observations give me a starting point for instruction.
At exactly 10 minutes, I ask for pencils down and give further instructions. At this point, the lesson could split 2 ways: individual evaluation or group evaluation of facts. I typically choose group evaluation early in the year as evaluation is a challenging skill. I assign groups quickly by clumping people already seated near each other. Then, I ask students to share their facts with the group and choose the 1 fact which is most important for us to know. Further, they must be able to justify their opinion. I give them 10 minutes to share, evaluate, and prepare to share with the class; then we hear the top facts and their justification. As groups share, I start to make connections to our upcoming texts, offering a preview for the class. At the end, I ask students to keep their notes for reference during the unit.
Our first unit features essays and speeches from the American Revolution, thick reading for my juniors. To prepare them for the challenge, I like to review reading strategies--this gives them help to try before giving up on the texts. Tonight's homework, due on our next reading day, is to view the video, Reading Tough Text, and take notes using the provided notes guide.