Category Archives: Lessons

Peer Editing

Peer editing is a god-send and a nightmare, and it all depends on which peers are doing the editing. Sometimes I observe thoughtful commentary being written on student work while at other times I watch students virtually ignore what is read with no more than a “good job” written on the paper.

Thus, I have started using rounds. I know it’s not new, but it’s how I do this.

I have the students arrange desks in a large circle, and I give each student a bunch of sticky notes. The students place their own writing on the desk behind which they are standing. I am on the inside of the circle while the students are on the outside. Before we begin I hand each student a card, and each card has the specific skill or correction on which to comment. These may include a nuanced thesis, quotation usage, citation inclusion, capitalization, comma usage, pronoun/antecedent agreements, etc.

Then, I ask each student to rotate clockwise one desk, and we begin.

I begin the timer with 60 seconds. Each student gets about 45 seconds to read the piece and then has 15 seconds to write one critical comment on a sticky note and one kudos (which can be about anything read) during this time. Critiques are stuck on the desk to the left and kudos are stuck to the right. If this is a longer piece of writing, I then have the students write their names in the margin of the paper where they stopped reading, which allows a future reader to see where the editor left off.

After the 60 seconds everyone rotates, and we begin again. I usually rotate 10-15 times depending on how things are going and how long the writings are.

After 15 minutes or so, every student has a series of positive and critical comments, and each student only had one skill or correction on which to focus. This eliminates students getting overwhelmed, and, if we rotate enough times, two students may assess a piece of writing looking for the same corrections.

I monitor the process (and look for ways to improve it the next time), answer questions, keep students from chatting, and ensure everyone honors the process. Frequently, I follow the peer editing with some silent editing time where the students may use the sticky notes to mark their own papers. I can then move around the room helping students, and from time to time I allow students to partner up or talk with someone who edited his/her writing.

All in all, this has worked well for me.

Vocabulary Pictures

I started having my students create pictures for each of their vocabulary words, and their vocabulary scores jumped immediately. Along with a few other minor tweaks and adjustments, my students–when they do what I ask–perform at a very high level when using new vocabulary words.


I included a picture that one of my students created for the word “culmination.” I like this drawing of the word because it simply and directly conveys the word’s meaning without any complex artistic ability needed. The students quickly present their pictures and explain how the definition matches the drawing, and the other students in the class may steal that picture or keep their own. Regardless, the students have a visual representation of the word.

DilemmaHere is another picture one of my students created for the word “dilemma.” I like this one because the student (with a sly smile) explained that she was trying to decide between finishing her vocabulary homework and her reading, and it was a dilemma since she “wanted to do them both at the same time” because they are the “most important.” This made me laugh because I joke with the kids that English is the most important and should be done first, and I enjoy it when the students joke back with me.

Non-linguistic representations are a key component of Marzano’s system of teaching students, and, when my district provided a training on Marzano’s research-based teaching strategies, I felt good about the ways I have my students work. I like routines as well, and the training reinforced my affinity for routines, so my students know which days we will practice vocabulary and when any quizzes might be given. I believe this reduces stress and allows students to feel more comfortable in the classroom.

Easy Public Relations with Students and Parents

One thing I’ve realized during my career as an educator is that positive public relations are always good for my classroom. Really, isn’t that what Open House is? It’s a PR moment for the school–especially high schools–where parents frequently state they are intimidated to enter, and a chance for teachers to reveal their plans, the standards, and themselves in a short presentation.

However, I’ve also learned that PR comes in many packages.

One way I use positive word of mouth is to show films related to the content in my classroom. Occasionally, during an evening of the work week or on a weekend afternoon, I will show a film for my students to watch while I work on grading assignments or planning projects and the like. To get the students there, I offer extra credit, but I make sure that the points are a negligible amount having no real effect on students’ grades, or I will give students a ticket which, when redeemed, allows a student to retake a test or rewrite a paper (which I do anyway, but it’s about perception).

Plus, showing films is an excellent way to use a popular medium to provide enrichment opportunities while simultaneously showing students and parents that I sacrifice my personal time for students. We all do this. We grade student work on our own time, plan lessons and units, prepare assessments, and more on our own time, but this makes the time sacrifice a visible teaching moment for the students and parents.

Moreover, it’s a fun way to show students how the literature I teach connects to what they learn in class. For example, here are a few of my favorites:

Many other films work well with the literature I teach, especially when I teach American Literature, and the students enjoy coming to school for a fun activity. Since I’ve started having these movie nights and afternoons, I’ve have seen a difference in my students’ feelings about coming to my classroom and my parents’ attitudes about how teachers care about their kids. The comments I receive from the parents are heart-warming and they sometimes come to the movie nights too and bring snacks.

I don’t attribute all of my successes to these movie nights, but they are part of a larger series of positive PR moments that increase engagement in my classroom and word of mouth about my classes.

Vocabulary Words Are All Around Us

Yep, that’s what I told my students: vocabulary words are all around us.

Frequently, I hear my students complain that they’ve never “heard this word” or have never “seen this word” and other such comments when we study new words. In the last month the students have received words, which they claim are never used, such as the following:

  • elegy,
  • obfuscate,
  • obloquy,
  • jingoism,
  • oeuvre, and
  • opus.

Thus, I said to the kids that I would bet them breakfast that within 10 days I would be able to bring in an example of each word in a pop-culture novel that I’m reading, a magazine I read regularly, or in a newspaper article in a local paper.

Mission accomplished!

I used Entertainment WeeklyRobopocalypse (a novel about robots turning on humanity), 11/22/63 (a Stephen King novel about time travel), and The Seattle Times to win the bet. The students were astonished.

Then, I challenged them to be honest and look for our vocabulary words in whatever they read whether that be a blog, a comic, a novel, a magazine, a newspaper, or other text. Truly, I did not expect the kids to take up this challenge, but within a week the kids (one class) had found 35 of the 40 words we’d studied so far.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels provided quite a few of the words, which greatly shocked the students. They realized that I wasn’t lying about the prevalence of these words and that the students often skip over unknown words without looking them up (or even recognizing that they skipped a word!).

I’m hoping the buy-in increases a bit. 🙂

Teaching A Tale of Two Cities

Let the students teach one another? Of course we can!

I tend to receive many, many questions when teaching anything by Charles Dickens (currently A Tale of Two Cities), and I frequently look for ways to combat being the provider of information and instead becoming a facilitator of learning. All of that eduspeak really means I want the kids working harder than me.


Before explaining the lesson, I need you to know that I have the students write down questions about their assigned reading along with the page numbers on which the question was based. This occurs each night. For the first three days of the reading, I spent quite a bit of time answering these questions before we could actually move to analysis (since most of their questions were fairly basic). The kids were starting to think I would just do all of the work for them, and I needed the students to start becoming independent of me.

Thus, I put my students into five groups of 5-6 students each, and I assigned each group one of the five chapters read over the weekend. The students were required to sit in circles and answer one another’s questions about the chapter and then to summarize the chapter in ten sentences. I moved from group to group but really just said things like “what evidence from the text do you have for that idea?” and “how do you think you can answer that?” I wanted the onus placed on them to find their own answers. The students had 25 minutes to work in their groups. They could use any resource in the room that was in print–no online sources (because of the dreaded SparkNotes and the like).

Then, the students moved back to a full class setting after I collected their summaries, and the students could ask the groups questions about the chapters. I simply ensured that the students maintained order and remained attentive while the students helped answer one another’s questions and clear up ambiguities and areas of confusion.

I only needed to jump in once to correct the students going down the wrong path. I considered this a successful venture, and the students left the room with more confidence than when they entered. 🙂