Story Telephone: A Tale of 8th Graders Writing Whatever They Want

So my kiddos have been testing for the last two weeks. Because of this, the bell schedule has been all kinds of screwed up (I either have my kids for an hour and a half or twenty minutes… and they didn’t test in my class until today). Needless to say the kids are burnt out and I’m having issues planning anything consistent. So I decided to use the long class periods for actual work that came from a masterfully crafted lesson plan, and the short class periods for a fun game to help the kids unwind after being bombarded with tests.

The game I came up with is a spin on a theatre improve game. Basically each student has two minutes to start writing a story. After the two minutes they pass their story to another classmate, who continues writing the story. This process continues until I deem it necessary to stop. I have dubbed this game Story Telephone and it is very amusing to watch. If you don’t have the kids sit in a circle (which I didn’t) one student has to run to grab his paper form the back of the class after every round. Let me tell you that this game is pretty amusing to watch if not participate in. Because of the time constraints there were a lot of errors but, by the end of the day I had a very amusing selection of stories and I have received permission to publish one of my favorites. So here you go:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was at home looking out the window. Then she saw little Timmy, who was riding a lizard…A BIG lizard. She was super impressed with him. She then left and followed the boy. When the boy stopped she stopped. They saw a crazy, big, amazing UNICORN… They all cried and the unicorn said “Hi”. The unicorn flew to MEXICO and died. Everybody in Mexico saw the magical UNICORN! And the people there went and ate at the Chinese restaurant and it had unicorn tacos. They all wanted more so they went on a search for unicorns, so they could have them for themselves. They went to different places and worlds and planets. Many years later they got hungry and ate at another Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t that good, but instead of a unicorn taco they had a monkey taco. But the monkey taco was cheese like the moon and wasn’t the moon but Mars… WHAT! Then he ate an apple from Apple Co. with Windows 10 but with iTunes. She said “I love this food!” The unicorns are doing well now.

Well there you go. A brief glimpse into the ridiculous mind of an eighth grader, when you let them write whatever they want.

Book to Film: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

My second post was about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I recall being surprisingly enchanted by the delightful satire that pits Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy against a hoard of the undead. The film was just as delightful, if majorly different. I’m not entirely sure that it was based on the book, considering how many changes were made to the plot.

Staring Lily James as Lizzie, Sam Riley as Darcy, Jack Huston as Wickham, and Matt Smith as Mr. Collins, I was very pleased with the casting choices. Sam Riley is no Colin Firth but he holds his own as a battle worn Darcy facing a seemingly endless war (they also totally make fun of Colin Firth’s Lake scene. Perfection!). Lily James shines as Lizzie and, had this been an adaptation of Jane Austen’s original novel, she would still have been the perfect Lizzie. My true favorite from the film was Matt Smith’s Mr. Collins. I am a fan of Smith from his tenure as the 11th Doctor on Doctor Who, and he brings the same charm to his role in this film. He is uptight and utterly unaware of how ridiculous he is and makes me roar with laughter every time he is on screen. Also he and Lily James are an adorable couple, just saying.

The plot on the other hand takes a completely different direction. Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel takes a new point of view while still hitting all of the major plot points of the original text. This film adaptation definitely Hollywoodized Grahame-Smith’s original concept. I was slightly disappointed with how much was excluded from the original plot to make way for epic battles and zombies that are suddenly intelligent. There is no visit to Pemberley, no Georgianna Darcy, minimal visits to London and Lady Catherine De Bourgh fails to maintain her disdain for Lizzie. While these changes were slightly disappointing, there were a few that I very much appreciated. Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collin’s reach more positive ending and Mr. Bingly’s utter disability to appear as a masculine soldier is simply adorable.

All in all, this film was an interesting experience. There were parts I loved and parts that simply confused me. It may not be a great movie, it might not even be a good movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and think that it is the perfect watch if you want something that doesn’t require a lot of brain power.

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Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon clearly takes great pleasure in my pain. I had planned on taking a break from the Outlander series, but this is clearly impossible. After finishing the second book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber, I am even more hooked than I was before.

imgdragonfly-in-amber1Gabaldon’s second book is a clear triumph. She chooses to take a slightly different directio
n than she did in the first book but she pulls it off brilliantly. Outlander was a much more emotionally driven story as Claire Randall is forced to deal with her sudden trip back in time. Dragonfly in Amber on the other hand examines Clair’s journey from a more historical and political point of view. If you haven’t read the first book I should probably say SPOILER ALERT.

Now that Claire has chosen to stay with Jaime in 18th century Scotland, she and her undeniably hunky husband face the task of changing history. While emotions are still the driving force of the story, a lot of Clair and Jamie’s actions are based on politics. Using Clair’s knowledge of how Prince Charles Stuarts rebellion ends, they become political activists in Paris in the hopes of stopping his return to Scotland and the slaughter of thousands of highland clansmen.

Claire is under constant strain as old enemies resurface and she is forced to think of her life in the 1940’s as well as her life in the 1700’s. New characters are also introduced that help add to the complexity of the plot. Gabaldon brilliantly gives closure to conflicts presented in Outlander while adding new conflicts in a new setting.

Gabaldon also masterfully utilizes time jumps by opening and closing the book after Claire’s return to the 1940’s. This causes a certain amount of stress for the reader because you know how Claire’s journey ends but it is strikingly unclear how she got there. And like all great writers she has managed to keep the reader wanting more. She lures you into this false sense of security thinking that there might be some sort of closure for Clair after she leaves Jamie to an uncertain end. She literally drops a plot twist worthy of M. Night. Shyamalan (though much more successfully executed) on the last of her 947-page long book.

I am sorry to report that I am unable to read anything other than Diana Gabaldon at this time (I’m not actually sorry at all). Be prepared for more gushing about how Jamie and Claire are the most perfect couple to ever grace literature, and how I continually long to return to the Scottish Highlands because of Diana Gabaldon’s stunning depiction of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. You have been warned.

Gabaldon, Diana. Dragonfly in Amber. New York: Dell Pub., 1993. Print.

 

Barnaby’s Guide to Getting Students To Enjoy Reading

I have only been teaching for one year but this is a topic that has become near and dear to my heart. As I said in my last post, the number of kids that pass through middle school language arts classrooms with a clear disdain for reading is super depressing. I have decided to make it one of my goals to develope a few techniques in helping students develop at least a passing fancy of not a passion for reading. So here are a few things I started developing in my first year as a teacher:

  1. Meet with each student individually: A lot of these activities and techniques are things that I learned during my time at NAU. This is one thing that can be a little difficult to set up as a teacher. Depending on how many students you have, it can take a long time to meet with every student in your class, so  it’s a good idea to have some come in before or after school. During these one on one conferences I try to figure out what genre’s students might be interested in. I talk to them about movies, music, and tv shows. So that I can try to make a few suggestions. I also allow these kids to have access to my YA lit binder. This is a binder full of young adult titles separated by genre. This wonderfully long list was compiled by one of my professors in college and I will guide my students to the genres that they might be interested in. The key is to let them choose the book with minimal guidance. The less a student likes to read the more guidance they will need, but hopefully as the year progresses they will need less and less guidance from the teacher.
  1. Book talks: I mostly do these during my one on one conferences with students but I sometimes do them for the whole class right after I’ve finished reading a book they might be interested in. I try to keeps these brief while using a few key-words to help paint a picture without giving away any spoilers. For example: The Girl on the Milk Carton. A mystery about a girl who is trying to figure out of she was kidnapped or not. Fast paced, quick read, part of a series.
  1. Book store drop off: This is something that I do and I have found that a lot of parents like this idea when I explain it at parent conferences. For this I like to set aside a good chunk of time on the weekend. I tell parents to take their child to a bookstore or library and they aren’t allowed to leave until they’ve chosen a book. They should go through the shelves and choose three or four books that they might be interested in. Then they find a comfy chair and read. I suggest that the student should give each book 25-50 pages. If that book has not grabbed their attention in that time they can set it aside and move on. Once they have found a book has caught their attention they can buy it and go home. This ensures that they are actually interested in the book before spending money. Again this is a big hit with parents, when they ask me how to get their kid reading more.

The key to all of these is choice. A student is more likely to resent a book if it chosen for them. If it isn’t a required reading text for the grade level give the kids a chance to choose what they spend their time reading. They will be a lot more committed and will enjoy the whole experience more.  

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If you live in Portland, Powell’s is a fantastic place to try the book store drop off. Greatest Place on earth!