Friday, October 30, 2009

Topic: Poetry Unit.

10-second review: Gave students the poetry formats and that started reluctant students to writing poetry. Completed the unit with a sonnet.

Title: “Sophomore Boys and Poetry.” Pam Webb. English Journal (September 2009), 110-113. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: To find descriptions of the formats as well as sample poems, type “poetic forms” in the Bing search engine (or Google). You will find 10,900,000 links. The author of this article went from easy formats like Haiku and cincain and concluded with the sonnet. For a basic book on patterns of poetry, try Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Form by Miller Williams. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Topic: Shakespearean Sonnets.

10-second review: Techniques for introducing Shakespearean sonnets.

Title: “The Sonnet Tradition and Claude McKay.” DEM Denize and Louisa Newlin. English Journal (September 2009), 99 – 105. The secondary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Here is an example of a Shakespearean Sonnet, Sonnet #29:

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee,--and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


Students can follow the recipe (three four-line quatrains with the last line a couplet: abab, cdcd,efef, gg) and write their own sonnets.

Give students strips of paper with one line of a sonnet and they try to assemble them into a full sonnet.

Using the overhead, uncover the first line and students try to guess the next line and so on.

Comment: You probably thought of these techniques, but for those of you who haven’t…. RayS.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Topic: Shakespeare and Rhetoric.

10-second review: Show students how Shakespeare intensifies meaning by using rhetorical devices.

Title: “No Reason Without Rhyme: Rhetorical Negotiation in Shakespeare.” Cheryl Hogue Smith. English Journal (September

2009), 91-98. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quiz: “Please mark whether the following couplets are perfect rhyme (e.g., ball/fall) or slant rhyme (e.g., they/ them):

Juliet: God night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,

That I shall say good night till it be morrow. Romeo and Juliet.

Duke: And live; if no, then thou art doomed to die.

Jailer, take him to thy custody.” Comedy of Errors.”

Summary/Quote: “I want to propose, however, that in teaching the rhyme, meter and other rhetorical devices in context in Shakespeare’s plays, we can help students better understand Shakespeare’s verbal artistry and how that artistry relates to meaning.” p. 97.

Note: See Sister Miriam Joseph. Rhetoric in Shakespeare’s Time. New York: Harcourt, 1962.

Comment: Unlike Chaucer whose use of rhetoric in many of his early works was merely standard and relatively unrelated to meaning (Stopper, 1967, Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Villanova University), Shakespeare’s word artistry is made more effective by his use of rhyme, scansion and other rhetorical devices. RayS.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Topic: Variant Shakespearean Texts

10-second review: The changes and variations in published texts of Shakespeare’s plays affect meaning. Introduce two variants from the First Quarto and the First Folio of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be….” soliloquy. If students want to explore this topic of variants in Shakespeare’s published works, they should type into the Bing or Google search engines the words “Shakespeare’s variant texts.” (However, do not use the quotation marks.)

Title: “The Text’s the Thing: Using (Neglected) issues of Textual Scholarship to Help Students Reimagine Shakespeare.” Scott Parsons. English Journal (September 2009), 85-89. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Example: Compare two published texts of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy:

First Quarto:

To be, or not to be, I there’s the point,/ To die, to sleepe, is that all? I, all:/ No, to sleepe, to dreame, I, mary, there it goes….

First Folio:

To be or not to be, that is the question:/ Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or take arms against a sea of troubles,/ And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep/ No more; and by a sleep to say we end/ The heart-ache.

Quote: “Ask them [students] then to decide which of the two beginnings to the soliloquy they think represents what Shakespeare actually wrote and explain their rationale. Most students will likely opt for the latter, and reasons will vary. Some will pick it because they’ve heard it before; others may just go for the more wordy of the two. Some will prefer the poetic quality of the Folio. I did have one student, however, who picked the First Quarto version. For him, these lines felt more passionate and immediate and therefore suitably abrupt.” p. 87.

Comment: Interesting approach to the study of Shakespeare’s language. RayS.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Topic: Shakespeare's Audience

10-second review: Students take a virtual seat in the Globe Theatre in one of three locations: The Pit for the “groundlings”; the Gallery for the educated members of the Middle Class; the Balcony reserved for nobles and royalty. Makes the point that Shakespeare appealed to all classes in the England of his time.

Title: “Virtual Seating in the Globe Theatre: Appreciating Film Adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays.” L Williamson. English Journal (September 2009), 71 -73. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The Pit. Groundlings appreciate the special effects and watch for scenes of violence, gore, sex and dirty jokes.

The Gallery: Middle class educated appreciate intricacies of the plot and watch for puns, riddles, ironies and double entendre.

The Balcony: Appreciate political intrigue, foibles of the rich and powerful. and pay close attention to the king’s place in the Great Chain of Being.

After seeing each segment of the play on film, students write from the perspective they have chosen at the Globe in a journal, which is graded for consistent point of view, detailed references to the film and commentary on the director’s interpretation.

Comment: Makes the point about Shakespeare’s appeal to a diverse population. RayS.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Topic: Interpreting Shakespeare

10-second review: Technique for interpreting Shakespearean passages.

Title: Suggested by “ ‘The Lash of Film’: New Paradigm of Visuality in Teaching Shakespeare.” JH Cabat. English Journal (September 2009), 56-57. The secondary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Take passages of 10-12 lines from Shakespeare, and students are required to reduce their meaning to 140 characters, the size of a “twit” or “tweet,” whichever term you prefer.

Comment: Sounds like fun. RayS.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Topic: Literacy vs. Visuality.

10-second review: Wired’s Kevin Kelly: “We are now in the middle of a second Gutenberg shift—from book fluency, to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality.” p. 56.

Title: “ ‘The Lash of Film’: New Paradigms of Visuality in Teaching Shakespeare.” JH Cabat. English Journal (September 2009), 56-57. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “The arrival of visuality means that students are now able to manipulate images as easily as text.” p. 57.

Quote: “…our days of showing clips from films as a supplement to the text to an essentially passive audience are numbered.” p. 57.

Comment: What can books do that pictures and films cannot? I prefer to think of text and pictures and film as complementary.

Students are able to manipulate images as easily as text? That’s a mighty big assumption. The use of images in Power Point is mindless, according to any number of critics. What they lack is a powerful, well-organized presentation by means of words.

If students are able to “manipulate text” so easily, why do we bother teaching writing? According to this statement, students already know how to organize, develop, summarize, revise and edit text.

The mindless use of pictures in English education journals is an example of the lack of evocative ideas that are much more clearly and completely expressed by means of words in the text.

What can books do that pictures cannot? What can pictures do that text cannot? That is the question. RayS.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Topic: Preparing for Shakespeare.

10-second review: Give students a plot summary of a Shakespearean play. What questions do the students have about the play? Sample scenes from the play might answer some of these questions.

Title: Suggested by “ ‘Who’s There?’: Shakespeare and the Dragon of Autism.” C Renino. English Journal (September 2009), 50-55. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: The key will be the questions the students ask following the reading of the plot summary. Preparing scenes to perform or read aloud might answer some of the questions. Some of the questions are likely to be about the complicated plot. And the overall question is what is the significance of the play? RayS.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Topic: Performing Shakespearean Scenes

10-second review: Methods of Preparing Students to Read Shakespearean Scenes with Meaning.

Title: “Words, Words, Words: Reading Shakespeare with English Language Learners.” C Porter. English Journal (September 2009), 44 – 49. The secondary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary of Steps to Take in Preparing Students to Perform Shakespearean Scenes

Give key lines on index cards, one line to a student, from Act One of the play. Students try to anticipate what the play will be about.

Have students pantomime scene from the play.

Students create story boards of scenes in the play.

Students volunteer to read the scene aloud. Don’t force students to read the scene aloud if they are uncomfortable doing so.

The students next discuss the interpretation of the meaning of different speeches in the scene.

Students research and discuss archaic words, using Open Source Shakespeare (

Work with students on the appropriate tone of voice in reading or performing the lines.

Comment: Interesting sequence of activities in preparing students to read aloud or perform Shakespearean scenes with meaning. RayS.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Topic: Selected Scenes to Perform from Shakespeare by Themes.

10-second review: The author has selected scenes for use in performing Shakespeare. Of course, students need to be prepared for the performance.

Title: “Words, Words, Words: Reading Shakespeare with English Language Learners.” C Porter. English Journal (September 2009), 44 –49. The secondary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Theme: Fathers and Daughters

The Tempest. 1.2 (Porspero and Miranda).

King Lear. 1.1 (Lear, Regan, Cordelia and Goneril).

Othello. 1.3 (Desdemona and Brabantio).

Romeo and Juliet. 3.5 (Juliet, Lady Capulet, Lord Capulte).

Hamlet. 1.3 (Ophelia and Polonius).

Theme: Lovers—Altercations, Adorations and Conversations.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona. 2.1 (Silvia and Valentine).

The Taming of the Shrew. 2.1 (Katherine and Petruchio).

Romeo and Juliet. 2.2 (Romeo and Juliet).

Macbeth. 1.7 (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 2.2 (Hermia and Lysander).

Theme: O Tragedy! Famous Death Scenes.

Romeo and Juliet. 3.1 (Mercutio and Tybalt).

Julius Caesar. 3.1 (Caesar).

Hamlet. 5.2 (Hamlet, Gertrude, Laertes, King).

Henry IV, Part 1. 5.4 (Hotspur)

Othello. 5.2 (Desdemona, Emilia, Othello).

Next Blog: Methods of preparing students to read the scenes with meaning.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Topic: On the Importance of Books

10-second review; The headline in the Wall Street Journal for October 7, 2009, reads: “Behind Afghan War Debate, A Battle of Two Books Rages.” (Internet version)

Source: Peter Spiegel and Jonathan Weisman. Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2009, Internet Version.

Quote: “The struggle to set the future course of the Afghan war is becoming a battle of two books—both suddenly popular among White House and Pentagon brain trusts.”

Summary: The two books, Lessons in Disaster by Gordon M. Goldstein and A Better War by Lewis Sorley, offer different interpretations of strategies discussed during the Vietnam War and are possible strategies to use in the Afghan war. Essentially the issue is whether to follow the military experts’ advice without question, the surge, or to try some form of working with factions of the Taliban which might not be committed to Muslim extremism.

Comment: The reason I highlight the books being debated is that one purpose of books is ideas, ideas that cannot be explored as effectively in any other medium. Books and the ideas in them are relevant to today’s problems. Pictures and films and talk shows cannot explore ideas in the way that thoughtful readers can use ideas by reading books. RayS.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Topic: Acting Out Shakespeare

10-second review: “Acting out the play allowed me to understand the whole play better.” “After I acted out a scene from Romeo and Juliet, I understood it more. I actually felt the story.” Orubba Alamansour, Grade 11.

Title: Developing an Ear for Shakespeare.” Arubba Alamansour, Grade 11. “Acting Shakespeare.” Aram S. Bolian. Grade 9. English Journal (September 2009), 35-36. The secondary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: Aram Balian, Grade 9: “By performing Shakespeare’s words with emotion and gestures, I began to appreciate the message he was trying to get across. I understood the intricate plot. I discovered the rich nuances of the phrases and began to feel true affection for the characters. Through my performance, I recognized Shakespeare’s masterful use of subtle ironies and sarcastic remarks.”

Comment: Again, the philosophy of the Folger Shakespeare Library is that acting out scenes is the best way for students to appreciate the language of Shakespeare. RayS.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Topic: Why Do We Read Shakespeare?

10-second review: We read Shakespeare, not because of the stories, but because of the language, the words.

Title: “A Walk in the Garden.” JR Scotese. English Journal (September 2009), 33-34. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).


“We don’t read Shakespeare for the story—he took a his stories from somewhere else….”

Stephen Booth: “…on the genius and singularity of Shakespeare’s words.”

“Shakespeare’s plots are nothing that can’t be found by perusing tonight’s lineup on prime time. But those words—oh, those words—there is nothing that approaches them….”

Comment: This issue of English Journal was guest edited by Michael LoMonico, of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and, it seems, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s philosophy is that what counts in reading and performing Shakespeare is the language, the words. RayS.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Topic: Teaching Shakespeare

10-second review: Some thoughts on teaching Shakespeare.

Title: “Shakespearean Ruminations and Innovations.” Michale LoMonico, Folger Shakespeare Library. English Journal (September 2009), 21-28. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Thoughts on Teaching Shakespeare:

Focus on unlocking Shakespeare’s language. It is more important to get students to like Shakespeare than it is to get them to understand every word. The best way to get students to like Shakespeare is by getting them to perform Shakespeare. Acting out a scene is a form of close reading. Sometimes it is better to teach just part of a play rather then the whole play. Select scenes from several plays that are linked thematically.

Shakespeare is for students of all ability and reading levels, of every ethnic origin, in every kind of school The best way to use video may not be showing the tape or DVD from the beginning to the end. Studying Shakespeare’s life doesn’t help students understand his plays [but studying Elizabethan times to explain a line, does]. Designing Globe Theaters out of sugar cubes and Popsicle sticks, making Elizabethan newspapers, designing costumes, doing a scavenger hunt on the Internet, and doing a report on Elizabethan sanitary conditions have nothing to do with a student’s appreciation of Shakespeare’s language.

Comment: What techniques worked in teaching Shakespeare with your teachers or your students? I remember vividly what worked with me and forty to fifty other boys in Senior Science F of my high school. The Christian Brothers taught in our high school in Philadelphia and Brother Henry, a florid-faced man who also happened to be athletic director was our English teacher. To say that I and the other boys in my class were lukewarm students in English would be an overstatment.

And then Brother Henry began to read aloud to us The Merchant of Venice. We followed along in our anthologies. He loved Shakespeare. As he read, he interspersed his comment, “This is great stuff.” He read excitedly and with emotion and when we reached the part about the pound of flesh and no blood, we were all sitting on the edge of our seats. I have never forgotten that lesson in Shakespeare. RayS.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Topic: Homework

10-second review: What’s wrong with the instructional sequences in the following teaching scenarios?

Title: “Learners Need Purposeful and Systematic Instruction.” D Ross and N Frey. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2009), 75-78. The secondary journal of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Instructional Sequences:

“A mathematics teacher solves a series of problems on the board and then assigns the odd-numbered problems at the end of the chapter for homework.”

“An English teacher reviews the previous chapter in the novel, lectures on the theme, and then suggests everyone to silent reading for the remainder of the period.”

“A science teacher assigns Chapter 14 in the textbook and tells every one to answer the questions at the end of the chapter (full sentences, please).”

The authors say that what’s wrong with these sequences is lack of preparing students for the homework. The teacher needs to talk through how to solve one of the math problems, how to preview the material for silent reading of the novel and how to survey (title, sub-title, illustrations, first paragraph, first sentences of the middle paragraphs, last paragraph, and raise questions to read to answer), read and then answer the questions in the back of the chapter.

Comment: This preparation suggested for homework is called modeling. The teacher models for the students what the students are expected to do when completing the homework. Parents will love teachers who model the homework because they won’t have to figure out how to do it for their children. RayS.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Topic: Strategies for Reading in the Content Areas.

Topic: Strategies for Reading in the Content Areas

10-second review: This article provides a list of strategies to help students read materials in subjects using textbooks to provide information.

Title: “Content Area Reading Strategy Knowledge Transfer from pre-service to First-year Teaching.” C. Alger. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2009), pp. 60-69. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary of the list of strategies:

Cornell Note-taking

Graphic Organizers

K-W-L Chart

Concept Maps

Writing to Learn

Interactive Reading Guide

Concept Definition Mapping

Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA)

Learning Logs

Structured Note Taking


Word Family Trees

Question-Answer Relationships (QAR).

Comment: All of these strategies for reading content material in biology, chemistry, social studies, etc. can be found defined and illustrated online. Simply put the name of the strategy in a search engine like Google or Bing and you will find definitions and illustrations. Don’t pay for this information. You will find links that give this information for free. Keep looking.

Caution: Be sure to try each of these strategies on yourself before trying them on the students. You will be better able to anticipate problems and advantages of each strategy. It might be worthwhile to have students try all of them to decide which techniques help them best to comprehend difficult material. RayS.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Topic: "Street Lit."

10-second review: A new genre is called “street lit,” “hip-hop lit,” “ghetto fiction,” and “hip-hop fiction” aimed at urban black girls who will likely read it outside of school.

Title: “Ghetto Fabulous: Reading Black Adolescent Femininity in Contemporary Urban Street Fiction.” E Marshall, J Stapler and S Gibson. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2009), 28-36. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Two of the genre’s less promising titles are Bitch and Whore. Authors suggest reading this type of fiction as a bridge to the standard reading in school.

Quote: “…motivate and facilitate meaningful instances of self-efficacy for all students and particularly those Black adolescent girls who have been historically marginalized within and excluded from meaningful engagement with texts in English classrooms.”

Comment: If the teacher is going to make any connections between street lit and standard lit, the teacher is going to have to read some of it. RayS.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Topic: English Language Learners (ELLs) and Idioms.

10-second review: One of the major problems in working with ELLs is translating English idioms into English.

Title: “Transnational and Community Literacies for Teachers.” RT JimĂ©nez; PH Smith; BL Teague. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2009), 16-26. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Problem: How would you translate the following idiom into English that can be understood by an English language learner? “The text reads, ‘He is sending him to new heights’ and is accompanied by an image of a pilot handing a model airplane to a boy. Students translating the idiomatic expression, ‘to send (someone) to new heights’ into a language other than English will discover multiple layers of meaning that will require interpretation and discussion to produce a comparable text in the other language.”

Comment: Not to mention into English that the English language learner will be able to understand.

My attempt: The pilot is encouraging the young boy to achieve his dreams, including, perhaps, becoming a pilot.

I still think one of the best techniques that one can use with ELLs is to have them write in English, as best they can, for ten minutes a day on a topic of their choice. At night, or if there is time, during the class, the teacher corrects the students’ text, fixing grammar, usage, punctuation, and translating idioms, etc. The students ask the teacher questions about the corrections and then re-write, making the corrections so that they have a model of correct English writing. Ten minutes of writing is not much writing. But a lot can be learned from that short sample of writing. RayS.

Monday, October 5, 2009

topic: A Reading Exercise

10-second review: What does it take for you to read the following?

Title: “Reimagining Our Inexperienced Adolescent Readers from Struggling, Striving, Marginalized and Reluctant to Thriving.” CL Greenleaf and K Hinchman. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2009), 4-13. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

“We begin this article by asking you to read the following text:

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What strategies did you use to make sense of your reading of this text, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States? What caused you to slow down or reread? Under what circumstances might a teacher introduce this document to students—even those thought to be struggling with reading? What challenges might young people representing an array of reading abilities encounter as they read? How could a teacher help those young people to address any challenges and weigh the text’s possible meaning? What knowledge and strategies might young people extrapolate form this experience to other reading?” p. 4.

Comment: Interesting exercise and questions. RayS.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Topic: Print and Online Journals.

10-second review: In the June 2009 issue of College Composition and Communication, the editors print the beginnings of two essays. At the conclusion of these short beginnings, they suggest that readers go to the online edition of the journal to read the complete essay at, “The Extended CCC.”

: Why not print the entire essay? I suppose that this approach to the uncompleted essays is a gimmick to meld the print and online editions of the journal. I don’t get it. The two mediums are different. With print, I can preview, skim and scan easily by flipping the pages, underline while I am reading and annotate in the margins. Online, my reading is similar to reading a scroll, which early writers and readers discovered centuries ago was more easily done with pages. For me, it’s harder to jump to the essence of the idea online than with printed pages. For whatever my opinion is worth. RayS.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Topic: Why Write Literature in the Modern World?

10-second review: To communicate the human condition at this time.

Title: “Perspectives: Writing in the Post- ‘Man of Letters’ Modern World.” Geoffrey Sirc. College composition and Communication (June 2009), 829-830. A college publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: To answer the question about writing literature in the modern age, the author quotes poet Alan Tate’s 1952 essay, a Phi Beta Kappa address given at the University of Minnesota:

“To the question, what should the man of letters be in our time, we should have to find the answer in what we need him to do. He might do first what he has always done: he must recreate for his age the image of man…. But at our own critical moment…he must distinguish the difference between mere communication…and the rediscovery of the human condition in the living arts…in a society of means without ends, in the age of technology….” pp. 829-830.

Comment: Why create literature today? To distinguish between “mere communication” (e-mail, tweeting, texting, cell phones, etc.) and rediscovery of the human condition in a “society of means [technology] without ends” or technology and talk for its own practically-meaningless sake. RayS.