Setting the Stage For A New School Year

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SWBAT demonstrate the use of Accountable Talk in classroom discourse, generate a whole-class wordle to introduce upcoming unit theme, and write letters to themselves as new 8th-graders.

Big Idea

Lights! Camera! Action! Setting the stage for student success via three approaches.

Accountable Talk

30 minutes

Today is the second day of class, and while we may still be in the “stage setting” phase, I plan to put a few concepts and procedures in place. 

I begin by introducing the tenets of Accountable Talk, or, rather, what I have narrowed down and find most useful from the philosophy of Accountable Talk.  I provide my students with a handout labeled "Classroom Expectations" in the first column and "Accountable Talk" sentence-starters in the second column.  The Classroom Expectations are a repeat of what is on my student syllabus (reviewed in class on the first day) and the Accountable Talk sentence-starters are new. 

I explain to my students that discussion, debate, questioning, and exploring texts and ideas will be a large part of our English class.  Because of this, it is essential that we practice a discourse that demonstrates respect at all times, even when we disagree.  I instruct my students read quietly through the list of sentence starters on their own and I then explain that we are going to perform a mini practice run. 

I begin the discussion with a statement proclaiming that  “___” was the best film of the summer (I use Despicable Me II).  Choosing something immediate, popular, and age-appropriate should easily invoke responses from my students.  I then invite my students to comment on the statement, using Accountable Talk sentence-starters.  

I allow the discussion/debate to continue until a good sampling of sentence-starters have been used. As I bring it to a close, I  acknowledge that while the sentence-starters may feel stiff at first, it is imperative that we learn to engage in conversations in a manner that allows all to be heard in a respectful way.

Laying the Seeds for Unit Theme

20 minutes

The next task is for my students to complete a short Student Survey that will tell me a little bit about each one of them.  I keep the surveys handy throughout the year, should I ever need to consult them for enlightenment in a variety of scenarios. I have reproduced them on yellow card stock, which makes them seem more official.

Each student is given a survey to complete.  Before they begin, I call their attention to the request on the survey that asks them to determine "One word that truly describes me.'  For each class, I have a large, blank piece of butcher paper, upon which I have written the name of each class in the center. I explain to my students that as they are completing the survey, I will pass the butcher paper around, so that they can add their word to our makeshift "wordle."  Along with the poster, my box of markers is passed around as well, so that they can colorize and personalize their words as they choose.

The creation of the whole-class wordle serves two main purposes:

  1. It will function as a "curtain" for the large windows in our new building, blocking the view of other classrooms across the courtyard.
  2. More importantly, it creates a product that will tap into themes about identity, which will be explored in our first unit, centered around The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

I expect this to be loose and sort of fun time for my students, but in order to maintain a sense of control, I will walk the poster from student to student, staying on my feet and in the middle of the action, so as to prevent the early misconception that "We can do anything we want and be as loud as we want in Ms. Beebe's class."  


A Letter to Myself

20 minutes

The final activity of the day is to have my students write letters to themselves, as two-day-old eighth -graders, to be returned to them on the last day of school.  This is always a fun experience for my students, to talk to their future selves, and one that capitalizes on the general excitement and focus students arrive with at the beginning of school years.  Knowing that my students will be goal-setting and reflecting throughout the year in their Advisory classes, the central objective of this activity has them document their goals and then tuck them away, sort of time-capsule style, to then determine on the last day of school whether or not they have accomplished what they set out to do.

The letters are to be three paragraphs, organized the following way:

  1. “Today is the second day of school and . . .” (tell yourself what you are wearing, what you are/have been thinking about, etc.)
  2. “This year I plan to accomplish . . .” (what goals have you set for yourself this year?)
  3. Give yourself some advice/motivation/inspiration

I encourage my students to be as creative and as honest as they choose, reminding them that I will not be reading their letters.  I remind them that they want to develop something that will be rewarding to open in June, to discourage anyone from writing a hasty, superficial letter.  Finally, I instruct them to close the letter (EX: “Hugs and Kisses, Me” ) and then give each one an envelope to place them in.  

As students are writing their letters, the whole-class wordle will probably still be making its rounds, which means I am circulating the room, controlling the chaos.  Once all letters are collected, I explain that I will "bury" them (keeping with the time-capsule idea) in a drawer of my desk, to be returned to them on the last day of school:

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