Monday, October 27, 2014

Re-Repost: Jack's Lament

If you have not seen the movie Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton, you really should.  It is not a great movie for little kids, but excellent for middle school age children and older.  I'm not suggesting this as a movie to watch in class, just if you have children at home.  As far as class goes, there is a particular song in it that is useful for instruction: "Jack's Lament."

A quick bit of background information for those who have never seen the movie. Jack Skellington (pictured to the left) is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town (every holiday has their own town).  He has just had another successful Halloween.  He has, once again, won all the praise of the inhabitants of Halloween Town.  And he is bored out of his mind.  This is the song he sings to express how unhappy he is, even though everything is going great.

Why show this movie in your class?  To teach allusion. There are several examples and depending on the level of student that you have, they should be able to pick out most.

Here they are in order as they appear in the song:

  1. Sally, the rag golem is an allusion to Frankenstein's monster.  Students might be able to figure that out from the stitch marks.
  2. He is walking through a pet cemetery (Stephen King's Pet Cemetery).
  3. Zero the ghost dog - easy Rudolf allusion
  4. There is a grave stone figure that looks like Mushu from Mulan.  If students make that connection, that's great.  However, The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993 and Mulan came out in 1998, so no true allusion there.
  5. The horse head tombstone is actually an allusion/pun.  It looks like the chess piece knight.  Use the homophone reference for night.
  6. You have two versions of the Scream painting by Edvard Muench.  One tombstone looks similar to the painting and the other looks similar to the Halloween mask designed after the painting.  To really drive it home, he even says that he, "grows so weary of the sound of screams," at the same time that he drapes his arm around one of the tombstones.  Students might recognize the tombstone from the movie Scream, which has a mask based on the same painting.
  7. He calls himself Jack, the Pumpkin King.  Maybe an allusion or at least a play on the idea of a Jack o' lantern?
  8. As Jack stands in front of the moon, it is a reference back to Tim Burton's Batman, when the batwing flies in front of the moon for a special visual effect.
  9. And of course, the Hamlet allusion as he takes off his skull and holds it to recite "Shakespearean quotations."
O.K., did I miss any?  I feel like I did.  If you notice any more, please leave a comment so that I can add it to the list.  I'll give you full credit!

If you have the movie, you'll find this song starting at about 6:10 and ending at 9:45.  If you don't, here is a poor quality You Tube version:

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hard Core Satire

Satire - what a wonderful rhetorical device!  So cutting edge, so avaunt guard, so...offensive.

Well, you could play it safe when teaching satire, but what is the fun of that?  If you really want to spice up that "A Modest Proposal" lesson, you'll need to hit students where they are today.  Six months ago, Stephen Colbert gave us the best example of satire since 1729:

Now - here's the tricky part - when you show this video, start at 4:50 to isolate the topic of the Redskins and at 6:27 you may wish to mute the rest (hey, we're hard core, but we still want to keep our jobs).  Once the Ching-Chong character clip is over, turn back up the volume.

Well, satire is offensive, and just like people in Swift's day felt that it was offensive to suggest they eat babies, Twitter responded with the outrage for this clip.  Here is the tweet that the Colbert show had that started the craze:

Without the context, some people really got angry and started the #CancelColbert trend on Twitter.

Not to sit it out over the weekend, Stephen joined in with the outrage:

So, use this to lead your students into making the connection how he makes people find this racist in order to make his point about the Redskins - just like Swift made the British recoil at eating human beings just so he could turn around and say, "Oh, well, if we are to treat them as fellow human beings, why are we treating them like animals in every other instance."

Friday, October 10, 2014

Macbeth Memes

Students are funny creatures and they love to make memes based on what they are learning in school.  For some Friday relief, here are some of the best Macbeth memes that I've run across so far:

Students - gotta love them!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spider-Man Unmasked!

Here is a great creative writing prompt to get kids pushing their thoughts a bit.  You do not need to be a comic book fan to participate (although if you are, there is that much more interest in it).  All you need is the ability to think divergently.

Show students this cover:

Now, supposing that everything shown on the cover is true for the story inside, how could this happen and Peter Parker still keep his identity secret?  We have these characters on the cover:

  • Dr. Octopus - his four extra mechanical arms are just as strong as Spider-Man and allows him to reach far away.
  • Peter Parker - the true identity of Spider-Man.  He has the strength, speed, and agility of a spider and has a nifty spider-sense that warns him of danger (which didn't help as the cover shows).
  • Four random police officers
  • Betty Brant - she is a secretary for the newspaper The Daily Bugle and Peter Parker's girlfriend at the time of this comic.
  • J. Jonah Jameson - a newspaper editor who hates Spider-Man with a passion.
Let students write out how Peter Parker is able to keep his identity secret even though seven people clearly see him unmasked.  Give prizes to the most creative and the closest to the original.

So what is the real story?

Peter Parker has a cold, so he has lost all his spider powers.  Doc Ock, however, wants revenge on Spider-Man.  He notices that the Daily Bugle seems to get all the press on Spider-Man, so he breaks into their building, tells the editor, J. Jonah Jameson, that he will print a challenge to Spider-Man to meet him at a certain location.  He then kidnaps Jameson's secretary to insure that it gets done.  Peter Parker, fearful for his girlfriend's safety, dons his Spidey suit and goes after Doc Ock, even though he doesn't have his powers anymore.  Doc Ock beats him easily and unmasks him.  When he sees it is a teenager, he exclaims that the real Spider-Man is too scared to fight him and sent this kid in his place.  Figuring that was why Spider-Man's punches were so weak and why he was so easily beaten, Doc Ock throws Peter to the ground and leaves.  Betty and Jameson both think that Peter is quite the hero, albeit rather stupid, and the police, after toying with what to charge Peter with, finally leave them alone.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Another little classroom hack I've stumbled acroos recently:

Sometimes you just need a set amount of time for an activity.  Maybe you're practicing timed tests.  Maybe you need to make sure you get finished with your class discussion at a set moment to have time for something else.  You could just tell a student to keep an eye out on the clock for you (that usually works pretty well).  You could try and keep track yourself (but if you are like me, you often get sidetracked and forget the time).

Never fear, the Internet never lets us down.

An easy and fairly discrete one is on Google.  Just type in TIMER into the search bar to get an adjustable timer.  It has a rather annoying beep until you turn it off.  The pros - it's quick and not distracting.

You could also try these classroom timers:  They are much more fun, but also distracting as all get out.  I imagine my eyes as a student would be constantly on them.  However, if you are doing a long group activity where students are being loud anyway, this might actually help keep them on track.  If nothing else, pick the snail race and let students bet grade points* on which snail wins.

If you have any good timers or time keeping system, don't be stingy!  Share in the comments.

*Facetious is the only word in the English language with all five vowels in alphabetical order.  Facetiously includes the sometimes y.  It is also what I am being when I say "bet grade points", no matter how much fun that would be.

'Nuff said.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Super Simple Classroom Management Technique #1

Getting a class full of students who want to volunteer to read or come to the board is a blessing for any teacher, but oftentimes it is a struggle to get students to put forth the effort of walking all the way to the front of the classroom (play sad violins here) or to read a whole paragraph aloud (more sad violins here).

When a teacher calls on students, they sometimes feel picked on or pointed out.  Students with poor social skills may react poorly causing classroom disruptions.

I have a solution for that.  I did it without thinking and once I saw the effect, I've done it every year, every class since then.  I call it the


You like the alliteration, don't you?

Like I said before, it is super simple.  First get a container that you can designate for this purpose for the rest of the year.  Write each student's name on card stock or index card, cut them out into similar size rectangles, and put them into the box.  Next time you want a student to do your bidding and there are no volunteers, reach into the CONTAINER OF KISMET and draw a name.  You would be amazed at how well this works (granted, there are about 1% of kids who are going to react negatively toward anything).  They don't feel called out, because it is random.  Kismet picked them.  It's their destiny.  It's fate.  Who can argue with fate?

To keep the more mischievous kids from removing their name from the box, I will sometimes after a quiz pull out a name and grant that person 5 bonus points.  In fact, the first thing I used the box for is to do something nice.

I am constantly awed by the power of this thing.  Students will argue with me over what color the sky is (Carolina blue, by the way), but will accept their kismet without a whimper.

Plus you get to teach them an SAT / ACT word while you are at it.  Always fun stuff.

I have a few more little tricks up my sleeve that I will share with you in the next few weeks.  If you have any alternative methods for maintaining your little gems, leave a comment!  If you try this in your room, let me know how it worked for you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Resources for the SAT

Ah! The joys of the SAT!  The smell of freshly sharpened #2 pencils, the smell of fear oozing from the forehead pores of frightened juniors.  There's nothing like it.

Oh course you want to prepare them for the beast.  You could go out and buy one of those super thick prep books, but even you - an English teacher - do not want to wade through that boring quagmire.  Do we just leave kids to the wolves?  Of course not!  We're not just English teachers, we're EXTREME English teachers.

Resource #1
I used to teach an SAT prep class and I swear by this book.  Up Your Score

It is not only the thinnest SAT prep book on the market, it is the only one that students will actually read.  I cannot keep one in my classroom.  Students steal it all the time (well, they borrow it and start passing it around to friends and I never get it back).

It was made by four kids who score perfect or near perfect scores on the SAT and realized that it was pretty easy for them, but not for their peers.  So they decided to make a prep book that would actually be used.  These guys are old now, so every two years they hire one or two students who also made top scores and have them update the book (we don't want any Growing Pains references in there, now do we?).

Their tips are top notch and they know their audience.  When my son is about to take his SAT, he will get a copy of this from me.

They also have an ACT version.

Resource #2

A teacher friend of mine shared this with me.

This guy put together a rather extensive site on how to write the essay for the SAT.  He has a structure to the madness so that students can go in already knowing how they are going to write their essay.  There are links to get into his concept deeper if you want.

Do you have any great resources to add to this list?
Since February 15, 2014