Saturday, February 23, 2013

Learn English Grammar by Playing a Video Game

I've noticed that if there is one thing that my students like to do, it's play video games. As far as they are concerned, computers are little more than game boxes. Of course, I'd prefer that they'd do more meaningful activities when given access to laptops, but they tend to despise the coaching programs to which our school subscribes.

Seeing an opportunity to do some good, I taught myself to make video games, and I started fleshing out some concepts. While having students test my work, I realized that students are willing to jump through complex hoops to play games. While most of my students are not interested the distant goals of college prep or even test prep, they are concerned with the immediate goals of succeeding in whatever game that they are playing. Therefore, I built with this notion in mind: provide fun gaming experiences with genuine educational reinforcement. My first game, Orpheus the Lyrical, provides excellent figurative language review, but is much less ambitious than my most recent work:

Super Grammar Ninja: in this game students play through five challenging worlds, learning special moves and acquiring power-ups, and all the while reviewing parts of speech and sentence structure concepts. The game play is somewhere between Mega Man and The Adventures of Link, and the subject matter is ideal for Explore, Plan, and ACT test prep. I could see this game being of tremendous benefit to foreign language learners as well. Anyway, I've dumped my heart and soul into this game for the last nine months or so, and I hope that you or your students will have as much fun playing this game as I did making it. Check it out:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Holy Onomatopoeia Examples!

Boom! Here is a list of 101 onomatopoeia examples used in complete sentences. Feelings of excitement will whoosh over you. You will be blown away by the booms and bangs. You may just tinkle your britches. Well, at least you'll find a lot of examples of onomatopoeia. Anyway, check out some of these fine examples:
  1. The two-year old crashed into the cabinet.
  2. The cabinet opened with a distinct creak.
  3. Dissatisfied with her work, Beth crinkled up the paper and threw it in the trash.
  4. The swamp frogs croaked in unison.
  5. The teacher heard the distinct crunch of ruffled potato chips.
  6. Jacob could not sleep with the steady drip-drop of water coming from the sink.
  7. The root beer fizzed over the top of the mug.
  8. The flag flapped in wind.
  9. Did you forget to flush the toilet?
  10. Daryl gargled the mouthwash.
  11. The wounded soldier groaned.
Kaboom! If your head is ringing with excitement, check out the full list.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2012 United States Election Results Map Activity and Worksheet

Students are often required to read and interpret charts and graphs on standardized tests; therefore, it is important that you offer your students some practice using this skill. In the following activity, students will look at a large table of data. The table consists of the following columns: state names, the number of electoral votes, and the percentage of votes going to either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Along with this table is a map of all fifty states (they'll have to pencil in D.C. themselves). Students are to complete each of the following tasks:

  1. Write the name of each state
  2. Write how many electorates each state currently has
  3. Color each state one color if Romney won and a different color if Obama won
Students might have some problems with those tiny little colonies on the East coast, as most map makers do, but by drawing lines and creatively allotting space, they should be able to complete the activity. Check it out: 2012 Election Results by State Map Worksheet and Activity The activity is also available in RTF format, if you'd like to edit it yourself, on this page: reading comprehension worksheets.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Author's Purpose

Author's purpose is a really simple concept that is often evaluated on state reading tests. Though there are many reasons that people really write in real life: to make money, for therapeutic reason, to impress a man or woman- the standardized tests that I've been privileged to view tend to consistently recognize the following three purposes: entertaining, informing, and persuading. Basically every text can fall into one of these three purposes. Let's have a look at each:

Entertain: pretty much every fictional text falls into this category. Whether it be a story, poem, or play, if it is a product of the imagination, then it was probably written to entertain. Of course, this category could also include texts like television scripts, books full of knock-knock jokes, and comic books.

Inform: texts that provide information about a topic were written to inform. Some examples include encyclopedia entries, newspapers, recipes, instructions, biographies, and the nutrition facts on the back of food products.

Persuade: if the speaker is attempting to influence or convince the reader of some idea, then the text was probably written to persuade. Some examples of persuasive texts include campaign speeches, advertisements, and persuasive essays.

That's author's purpose in a nutshell. Are you ready for some practice? Click the interactive author's purpose activity below:

reading worksheets

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing a Research Paper

Take a big breath. It's going to be okay. Writing a research paper is an experience that can be related to child birth. It takes a lot of time to develop and there are parts that you may find to be extremely painful; however, when it's all said and done, you can create something beautiful. That's what the research process is all about: taking materials that are available to you and creating something new. Remember, writing a research paper is just a long series of tiny steps, and you can take tiny steps. Now let's get started.

1. Select a Topic: Choosing an appropriate topic is absolutely essential. This will be the foundation of the whole research process, so choose carefully. You will want to select a topic that interests you, because reading and writing about the topic will be less painful. Think of the things about which you are genuinely curious, and let your curiosity guide. Remember that you can change or alter your topic as you begin doing research, so don't put too much pressure on the initial choice. Just choose a topic that you like and one which fits the guidelines for your assignment. If you can't think of a topic, check out this list of research paper topics to help you get started. Choose a topic that is not too broad to sufficiently cover and not so narrow that you won't find any research on it.

2. Gather Resources: Reading all of the available material your topic is probably not possible if you have a deadline for your paper, but you should collect as many resources and materials as you can before you begin closely reading. In this way you can assess how much information is available on your topic before you dive in too deeply. Also, determine whether your internet sources are credible. Cut and paste web links into a text document and retrieve or request whatever physical sources you can access. Once you understand how much information is available to you, you can again revise your topic. This time consider what most interests you about your subject in light of your recent research.

3. Select the Works You Will Read: Since reading the works will take a substantial amount of your time, before you read anything briefly pursue each source to see if the author's writing style is at your reading level. If a text is too complex for you, you're probably better off selecting a text that is easier to read. Oftentimes academics deliberately make their writing dense and cryptic, rather than writing in a way that is clear and easy to understand, in an effort to demonstrate their intelligence. But you don't have to play this game. Choose writing that is easy to understand. You will probably get more meaning out of it and, ironically, sometimes the people who use the most words say the fewest things.

4. Read the Texts: This is the part of the research process on which students are most likely to procrastinate. Once you have the information in your head, you'll want to express it, but many students are threatened by nonfiction texts. Don't be scared. You won't have to read everything. Reading a nonfiction text is not like reading a novel. You don't have to read them in a linear fashion, from front to back. Feel free to cherry pick. Only read the information for which you are looking. You can skim and scan; however, if you decide you will quote, paraphrase, or otherwise reference information from a text, make sure that you thoroughly understand it, lest you appear foolish.

5. Take Notes on Your Research: As you are reading your resources, pieces of information will intrigue you. If you are researching a topic in which you are interested, you may find portions of the text exciting. These are the things of which you should make note. If you own the text, highlight or underline good information or otherwise make a memo of the page number and source in your research notes. If you are using electronic sources, just cut and paste interesting information into your word processor for easy quoting later.

6. Write Your Thesis Statement: Your thesis statement is merely a sentence that says what your are going to do in your paper. Usually they begin with "I," such as in the following example: "I will explain the causes for World War I." It is important that you keep your thesis statement in mind throughout the writing process. If you find yourself including information in your paper that does not fit into your thesis statement, you should alter your thesis statement to reflect what your paper is doing. Don't let your thesis contain you. As you write, you may go back and forth between multiple routes in your paper. You may decide to go both ways. It's no matter, because you can always revise your thesis to match your writing.

7. Create Your Rough Draft: The goal of a rough draft is basically to fill paper. Everything may not be perfectly organized. You may make mistakes in grammar, punctuation, and word choice. You may fall off of your thesis, but the key here is that you are producing writing. As you are writing your rough draft, you may go back and reread what you wrote, improving it when possible, but don't get hung up on revision. Put your research notes into an essay, and logically weave them together, removing the bits that don't belong and commenting when insights occur to you. Your goals should be to accurately represent what your sources have said about your subject, as well as putting yourself into the paper.

8. Make Quote Sandwiches: One of the most useful development templates when writing a research paper is what I call the quote sandwich. There's no rule stating how much of your paper should be references to other texts and how much should be original writing, but in my opinion commenting with more than a sentence or two before and after a quote demonstrates that the researcher is controlling the paper, not the research. So here's what you do: first, introduce the argument that your quote will support. Then, introduce your quote word for word. Use quotation marks and if your quote is longer than four lines, use block quotes. Lastly, explain how the quote relates to your argument. Don't assume the quote explains itself, because it doesn't. Even if it seems obvious to you, it's still your job to explicitly explain how the text you've introduced into your paper connects to and furthers your argument.

9. Bring It All Together: Before you ask for the opinions of other people, make sure that your paper is doing what you want it to do. Read through it several times. Fix any grammar, punctuation, and word choice errors that you notice. If you're unsure, consult an expert or research the issue. Make sure that every argument in your essay can be logically connected back to your thesis. If an argument does not connect to your thesis, expand or revise your thesis to include it or omit it entirely. Begin your paper with an interesting statement, idea, or question and attempt to meaningfully conclude your paper. Once you are confident in what you have written, it's time to get feedback.

10. Get Feedback and Polish: Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes to see an old problem. Writers may assume that their intended meaning will be understood, when readers may require more information or additional explanations. That's why it's important to get another person's feedback before you submit your paper. If at all possible, you should schedule some time with your teacher or professor so that they can give your feedback on your writing. Since they are the one's who will be evaluating your work, their input would be most valuable.

Writing a research paper is an art, not a science, so no single set of step-by-step directions will apply to all situations. Nonetheless, the process discussed in this post has worked for me many times in the past and may work for you as well. Please leave any comments or experiences that you'd be willing to share below. May your composition process go smoothly and interestingly.

By Mr. Morton

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Helping your Child Become a Better Student

Is your child struggling in school?  Would you like to help them become a better student?  I just read this moving article on helping your child become a better student, and it brought up a few really good points:

1.  Communication is Key: parents must communicate with children and children must communicate with teachers.  Teachers must communicate with parents and students.  The more communication that is occurring, the more likely each party is to spot problems and intervene.

2.  Monitor as Closely as Your Must: some children are independent, others require encouragement.  Allow your student to  develop responsibility, but don't allow them to fail.

3.  Focus on the Positive: Success is relative and school is not for everyone.  This does not mean that every child can't learn, but there aren't enough spaceships out there for everyone who wants to be an astronaut.  If your child is improving, celebrate the successes. 

I encourage you to read the whole article.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Teaching Main Idea

Some readers never struggle with identifying the main idea of a text.  If you teach reading class, it is likely that you are one of those readers, in which case you may not understand the process involved in determining the main idea in a passage.  If this skill comes easily to you, you may not realize that recognizing the main idea is a multistage process, and struggling readers may have trouble taking any one of these steps.  This article will explain how readers extract main ideas from texts and will better prepare you to teach students to identify main ideas in nonfiction passages.

Determining Main Idea

Determining the main idea in a text is a second order reading skill.  That is to say, readers must first comprehend the text.  After comprehending the text, readers must further examine the information within the passage and find commonalities.  By finding connections and drawing conclusions, the reader ultimately makes a logical inference determining the primary idea in text.  To further complicate the matter, many texts often contain nonessential information that may distract readers from the main idea of the passage.  So readers may have to recognize and disregard information that does not relate to the main idea of the paragraph or passage.  Here are some tips to help struggling students identify the main idea in a variety of passages:

1.  Read the Entire Passage: many so-called experts will tell readers to focus mainly on the first and last sentences of a paragraph to find the main idea, and while at times this may prove useful, test writers are aware of this trick and often won't structure their paragraphs so simply.  Additionally, it is a best practice to read and comprehend the texts on which you are evaluated, rather than trying to cut corners and find "too good to be true" shortcuts.

2.  Ask, "What is the author doing?": Make sure that you answer this question in your own words.  If you have to cherry pick information from the text to answer this question, you do not have a thorough understanding of the text and should reread the passage if time allows it.

3.  Practice Makes Perfect: As with most things, we improve our efficacy through practice and repetition.  So, practice identifying main ideas in a variety of passages with these main idea worksheets.

The "Another Good Title For This Passage" Trick

Another favorite trick of the test writers is to ask test takers what "another good title for this passage would be."  Inexperience test takes are often confused an misled by this question.  Victims of this trick mistakenly believe that they are actually looking for the best title of the passage, but that is not the case.  Rather, this question is a disguised form of the main idea question.  So, if you encounter such a question at anytime in the future, remember that you are not actually looking for the best title.  Rather, you are attempting to find the title that most accurately summarizes the main idea of the text.

Teaching main idea can be most difficult for good readers, to whom this skill comes naturally.  But, by remembering that identifying the main idea of a text is actually a multistage process that requires instruction, modeling, and practice to learn, you can teach your struggling readers to reliably identify the main idea in texts.