Kandi Maxwell teaches English at Modoc High School in Alturas, California. A teacher-writing consultant for the Northern California Writing Project, she has presented at teacher training workshops throughout Northern California. Kandi has worked in Indian Education for the past 15 years and is currently the vice-chair of the parent board for Resources for Indian Student Education. Her essays have been published in The Teacher’s Voice and California English.


You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. … to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace. … to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work.—Anne Lamott


When content area teachers hear that their already full curriculum load will now include ELA standards in writing, many express doubt about their ability to tackle the challenge. When looking at the new Common Core State Standards for writing along with the new requirements to incorporate history, social studies, science and technical subjects, as well as nonfiction literature, such angst is understandable.


Basically what this means is that teachers of all disciplines as well as ELA teachers will need to teach writing frequently. Although the standards include some examples of performance tasks in writing, there essentially are no road maps. So how do teachers get there?


Tips to adapt current curriculum

One way to include more writing in the curriculum is to examine multiple choice tests and look for questions that can be developed into open-ended questions. Develop short answer questions. Ask the student to explain, analyze, compare, conclude, and synthesize using questions that are more cognitively demanding. These short writing activities prepare students for more complex writing later.


For vocational classes, teachers might begin with process writing. For instance, if students will be building a book shelf, have them write out the steps that will be required to create and assemble the shelves. This type of writing requires students to evaluate and organize the information and to determine what details are important to include. Once the book shelf is completed, instruct students to write a reflective piece about the building process: what worked, what didn't, and what steps to remember in order be successful in future projects. To add elements of argument, let students compose an advertisement for the shelf modeled on real advertisements for book shelves or other wood projects. Have them analyze persuasive techniques such as loaded language or emotional appeal, then write out their own advertisement. Here too, we see short writing that could develop into larger pieces such as research papers.


Practice reading and writing together

Reading and writing coexist. As students break down a complex texts, they are simultaneously moving into the writing process. Read and write the lessons you teach. Begin the process with a quick read of the text, then create the writing task that will go with the text. Read a short story and ask students to write about how the author uses conflict to reveal the theme. This provides a purpose for the reading. As students read the text, they will look for examples of conflict. They might write out quotes that show conflict on sticky notes, or get into groups and write out conflict quotes and explanations on a large poster. Have them look at their examples and determine a theme. Such short writings will become a piece of a larger essay.


Teachers model as writers

Teachers provide samples of their own writing for the lessons they assign in order to gain a better understanding of the writing process. They become aware of the challenges students face firsthand. Through writing a response, they can determine if the writing task is clear and discover strategies to help students with their structure and organization. For teachers who may not be confident in teaching writing, this process hones writing skills. Writing is challenging! Model for students the time it requires and a willingness to take risks.


Revise, revise, revise!

Most teachers observe the classic writing format: read the writing task; brainstorm ideas; write an outline; compose a first draft; then type a final draft (which is usually just another version of the rough draft with spell check). However, in reality that final draft is typically when students should just be getting started. Authentic writers and journalist revise numerous times. For years I would get frustrated at my students for making the same mistakes in writing. After that "final draft," I provided no opportunity for revision.


Now, when my students have the opportunity to revise, they begin to see patterns in their writing. Do they continuously shift tense? Is structure an issue? I provide writing comments on these early drafts without grading the piece. In this way, students don't give up. Small writing groups are a good way to make revisions; students exchange papers and discuss their work. By reading their drafts out loud, most students can immediately spot problems that exist.


Adding more writing to content area curricula does not have to be daunting. As CCSS has teachers incorporating writing into their current curriculum, teachers can simultaneously provide students more cognitively complex lessons. This is not only good for teachers, it is what matters to students in school and beyond.

turkey2013.jpgDo you have activities ready for Thanksgiving? Although Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated for over 200 years, the fourth Thursday of November didn’t become the official Thanksgiving Day until  1941, when Franklin Roosevelt signed the holiday into Federal law for the first time. Up until that year, the date had been in flux.


Find additional information on Thanksgiving, including how a letter writing campaign played a pivotal role in that federal law and classroom-ready lesson plans, on the ReadWriteThink calendar. You might even start a letter-writing campaign of your own with the Letter Generator.


Find other  timely ReadWriteThink calendar entries and classroom materials below.


Featured Resources

From the Calendar

  • November 18: Mickey Mouse appeared in his first animated feature. Students create a short, humorous story with at least one action character, and then use the Comic Creator to make a flipbook. (For grades 3–8)

  • November 19: Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863. Students practice the Pre-AP strategy called SOAPSTone, identifying important parts of the Gettysburg Address and comparing it with John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech. (For grades 7–12)

  • November 20: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was published in 1974. Students are introduced to a Silverstein verse and asked for their impressions. They then draw that they imagine when they read one of his lines and then write a line or two to continue the passage. (For grades 1–12)

  • November 21: Today is World Hello Day! Students study a letter written by a famous author to determine purpose, and words and phrases that make the letter meaningful. They can use the Letter Generator to write their own letter promoting peace. (For grades 5–12)

  • November 28: America celebrates Thanksgiving Day today. After reading the book Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, students read the letter Hale sent to Lincoln and brainstorm a list of ways to make their community better. (For grades 5–12)

  • November 28: Poet William Blake was born in 1757. As a class, students brainstorm abstract concepts and personify that concept through a drawing or story told about the character who personifies that concept. (For grades 5–12)

  • November 29: Louisa May Alcott was born in 1832. Students brainstorm important events and people that might serve as the beginning of an interesting piece of writing. They then use the Bio-Cube to plan their writing and write an essay about a memorable person. (For grades 7–12)

  • November 30: Jonathan Swift was born on this day in 1667. Students explore satire and parody in television and film, advertising, and journalism and create a display that highlights their findings. (For grades 9–12)

  • In December, find lesson plans and activities on  Rosa Parks, Pearl Harbor, Bill of Rights Day, the Boston Tea Party, and more!

If you have feedback or questions about ReadWriteThink, please contact us.


—Traci Gardner


[Photo: Wild Turkey male displaying by dracobotanicus, on Flickr]


There is that great proverb—that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

—Chinua Achebe


A CCSS Exemplar text for grades 9–10 (Appendix B), Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart deals with the clash of cultures and the violent transitions brought about by British colonialism in Nigeria at the end of the 19th century.


Published in 1958, just before Nigerian independence, Achebe’s novel recounts the life of the village hero Okonkwo and describes the arrival of white missionaries in Nigeria during the late 1800s and their impact on traditional Igbo society. Achebe tried to achieve a “new” English that would capture and preserve the African experience of an Igbo village. Things Fall Apart made Achebe “the father of African literature.” Over the last decade, his novel has become a staple on high school reading lists worldwide.


EDSITEment offers a new World Literature lesson, A “New English” in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: A Common Core Exemplar. This lesson provides an opportunity to see how Achebe integrates elements from the Igbo oral tradition into his narrative: figurative language that draws on every-day village life; the ubiquitous proverbs of African conversation; and the folktales that both entertain and instruct. Students will undertake a close reading of passages in Things Fall Apart to evaluate the impact of Achebe’s linguistic and literary techniques on the narrative. This expands their cultural understanding and broadens their base of world literature.


Achebe’s New English

With a childhood in the Igbo town of Ogidi and an education in English at the University of Ibadan, Achebe was conversant with both Igbo and English language and culture. In a famous essay called “The African Writer and the English Language,” Achebe pointed out the difference between ethnic language and national language, which originated in the artificial drawing of national boundaries by the colonizing powers without regard to ethnic fault lines. Thus, the people of Nigeria speak numerous ethnic languages—Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and Fulani, and 500 additional languages. Achebe states that if he were to write for the people of Nigeria, he had to write in the one language they all understood: English.


Upon the author’s death in March 2013, NPR complied a number of interviews and broadcasts that had been conducted over the years to feature Achebe and speak to the legacy of Things Fall Apart.


Applications for the Common Core

A “New English” in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: A Common Core Exemplar offers an application for the Reading Literature Anchor standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.


Lesson activities guide students in an examination of the elements of Igbo oral tradition as they appear in Things Fall Apart. Activity 1 launches students into an interpretation of Igbo words and phrases Achebe molds into literary devices. They see firsthand how Achebe shaped the English of his novel to the African experience. Worksheet 1 provides a vehicle for students to identify the author’s figurative language and record the meaning of each Igbo simile. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Students move on to an examination of Igbo proverbs that Achebe peppers over his narrative to evoke a sense of time and place; set tone; convey mood; and provide local color. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).


Finally students observe how Achebe plants several Igbo folktales at strategic points in the narrative. A close reading of these traditional African stories offers the American student a unique perspective into the Igbo people’s values and culture. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6 Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.


The summative assessment has students consider how successful Achebe was in his stated intention to use the “English language to carry the weight of the African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit new African surroundings.”



EDSITEment Literature and Language Specialist

cover2013-200.jpgMeet  ReadWriteThink staff and authors in Boston, November 21 to 24, for NCTE’s 2013 Annual Convention. You’ll be among more than 6000 literacy educators from across the PreK-16 grade levels who attend to get fresh teaching ideas, be inspired, and make lifelong connections by attending sessions and workshops on important topics.


Stay up-to-date by following #NCTE13 on Twitter, downloading the Convention App, uploading or browsing session materials, and viewing the Convention Program online.


Catch up with ReadWriteThink staff and authors at these sessions and workshops:


ReadWriteThink Sessions

  • Core Tips and Strategies from ReadWriteThink.org (Session E.18)
    You may be familiar with the amazing resources on ReadWriteThink.org, but how can you use these resources to address themes in the Common Core State Standards? Discover tips about how to use ReadWriteThink.org in your educational setting to address text complexity, comprehension, communication and conventions, among other topics.
    Time: Friday 11/22 4:00 PM - 5:15 PM
    Location: Sheraton, Grand Ballroom, Second Floor

  • Meet the Editors Roundtable (Session H.01)
    Talk with  Program Manager Lisa Storm Fink about how you can contribute to the ReadWriteThink site.
    Time:  Saturday 11/23 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
    Location:  Hynes Convention Center, Room 209, Level Two

Presentations by ReadWriteThink Authors

  • Peggy Albers (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Meet the Editors Roundtable (Session H.01), Hynes Convention Center, Room 209, Level Two on Saturday 11/23 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM

  • Carey Applegate (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • CEE Opening Round Tables: Exploring Possibilities and Practices in English Teacher Preparation (Session A.19), Hynes Convention Center, Ballroom A, Level Three on Friday 11/22 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
    • (Re)Inventing the Integration of ELA and History: Using Genres to Teach Reading and Writing in the Middle School Integrated Course (Session I.13), Hynes Convention Center, Room 307, Level Three on Saturday 11/23 1:15 PM - 2:30 PM

  • Will Banks (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Creating The (Un)Common CORE: Maker-Centered Connected Learning In ELA (Session N.05), Hynes Convention Center, Room 111, Level One on Sunday 11/24 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM

  • Jennifer Buehler (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Reaching Readers with the Newest Young Adult Literature Award Winners (Session E.14), Hynes Convention Center, Room 313, Level Three on Friday 11/22 4:00 PM - 5:15 PM
    • Eight Great [Censored] American Novels (Session H.08), Hynes Convention Center, Room 302, Level Three on Saturday 11/23 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
    • 40 Years Of ALAN: Celebrating Great Books For Young Adults (Session W.14), Hynes Convention Center, Ballroom B, Level Three on Monday 11/25 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM

  • Bucky Carter (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • 40 Years Of ALAN: Celebrating Great Books For Young Adults (Session W.14), Hynes Convention Center, Ballroom B, Level Three on Monday 11/25 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM

  • Mary Christel (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • The Future of the Book: Connected, Adaptable, Flexible, and Customized (Session F.22), Sheraton, Constitution Ballroom A, Second Floor on Saturday 11/23 8:00 AM - 9:15 AM
    • Film Festival (Session FF.01), Hynes Convention Center, Room 300, Level Three on Saturday 11/23 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

  • Deborah Dean (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Inform Me! (Re)Inventing Avid Readers and Writers of Nonfiction (Session B.29), Sheraton, Hampton Room, Third Floor on Friday 11/22 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
    • (Inter)Viewing: Looking at Audience, Context, and Genre (Session C.15), Hynes Convention Center, Room 306, Level Three on Friday 11/22 12:30 PM - 1:45 PM

  • Scott Filkins (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • NCTE Author Strand---How Do We Assess Reading and Writing? Moving from Principles to Practice (Session A.35), Hynes Convention Center, Room 204, Level Two on Friday 11/22 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
    • Redefining Literacy: Arguments for a More Expansive View (Session J.41), Sheraton, Beacon A Room, Third Floor on Saturday 11/23 2:45 PM - 4:00 PM
    • Exemplary Research and Scholarship in English Education: CEE Britton, Emig, and Meade Awards (Session K.27), Sheraton, Beacon E Room, Third Floor on Saturday 11/23 4:15 PM - 5:30 PM
    • Core Standards: Minding the Gaps (An Ignite Session) (Session L.19), Sheraton, Republic Ballroom B, Second Floor on Sunday 11/24 8:30 AM - 9:45 AM

  • Cathy Fleischer (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • NCTE Author Strand---How Do We Assess Reading and Writing? Moving from Principles to Practice (Session A.35), Hynes Convention Center, Room 204, Level Two on Friday 11/22 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
    • Writing to the Community: Shaping Our Teaching Future by Telling Our Stories (Session F.55), Sheraton, Independence Ballroom West, Second Floor on Saturday 11/23 8:00 AM - 9:15 AM
    • Telling a Story: From Anecdote to Action (Session I.57), Sheraton, Back Bay Ballroom A, Second Floor on Saturday 11/23 1:15 PM - 2:30 PM

  • Nancy Kolodziej (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Poster Sessions for Middle Level (Session G.60), Hynes Convention Center, Ballroom Foyer on Saturday 11/23 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM

  • Suzanne Linder (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Teaching the Controversies: Profanity and Taboo Language in the Classroom (Session A.16), Hynes Convention Center, Room 201, Level Two on Friday 11/22 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM

  • Katherine McKnight (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Now I Understand What You Mean Creating a Common Language for Teaching Literacy Skills in the 21st Century (Session F.16), Hynes Convention Center, Room 109, Level One on Saturday 11/23 8:00 AM - 9:15 AM

  • Eileen Murphy (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Now I Understand What You Mean Creating a Common Language for Teaching Literacy Skills in the 21st Century (Session F.16), Hynes Convention Center, Room 109, Level One on Saturday 11/23 8:00 AM - 9:15 AM

  • John O’Connor (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • NCTE Author Strand: This Time It's Personal (Session G.05), Hynes Convention Center, Room 204, Level Two on Saturday 11/23 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
    • REEL Literacy: Teaching Film-as-Text in the English Classroom (Session I.58), Sheraton, Beacon H Room, Third Floor on Saturday 11/23 1:15 PM - 2:30 PM

  • Nancy Patterson (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Re-Inventing Engagement: Inviting Cross-Text Connections through Text Sets, Writing, and Discussion (Session D.39), Sheraton, Republic Ballroom A, Second Floor on Friday 11/22 2:30 PM - 3:45 PM

  • Missy Nieveen Phegley (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • The Future of Writing Teacher Education (Re)examined and (Re)imagined: From Research to Practice (Session G.03), Sheraton, TBD on Saturday 11/23 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM

  • Susan Spangler (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • Innovations in Mentoring New Teachers for the Future of English (Session K.36), Hynes Convention Center, Room 107, Level One on Saturday 11/23 4:15 PM - 5:30 PM

  • Valorie Stokes (RWT Author Page, NCTE Convention Sessions)
    • From ELA Teacher to Literacy Expert: Reimagining our Roles (Session G.39), Sheraton, Beacon D Room, Third Floor on Saturday 11/23 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM

If you need more information about the NCTE Convention, email the NCTE convention team with your questions and comments.

—Traci Gardner

nativeindian2013.jpgAfter nearly a century of advocacy, National American Indian Heritage Month was first recognized through joint resolution by Congress in 1990. Now recognized annually, November is a time to learn more about the history and heritage of Native American peoples.


Explore the Native American Indian Heritage Month in the classroom with lesson plans, classroom activities, related websites, and additional resources on the ReadWriteThink calendar.


Find other timely  calendar entries, new lesson plans, and classroom materials below.


Featured Resources

From the Calendar

If you have feedback or questions about ReadWriteThink, please contact us.


—Traci Gardner

untitled.pngWhen Abraham Lincoln was invited in the fall of 1863 to speak at the dedication of a national cemetery on the site of a pivotal Union victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, it was not to give the main speech. That oration was delivered by Edward Everett, a Massachusetts statesman, vice-presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union Party in 1860, and the most famous orator of his day. Everett spoke to the crowd of 15,000 without notes for over two hours, giving an example of the kind of ornate, learned, and transcendentalist rhetoric that was expected at such ceremonies.

The president used only 272 words in his dedication of the cemetery grounds, with most American newspapers taking little notice of the now famous speech. But the day after the ceremony, Everett wrote Lincoln to say, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Lincoln’s spare, poetic, and biblical speech buried the old rhetorical style of Everett and set the standard for a new kind of speech, which is still the model for such solemn commemorative occasions. If all American literature comes out of Huckleberry Finn, as Ernest Hemingway suggested, all modern American speeches come out of the Address.


Common Core

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Address, teachers and students have an additional reason to dive into the work for its literary and historical importance. The CCSS lists the Address as one of its “exemplar texts” illustrating the kind of complexity, range, and quality Grade 9–10 students need to master.


By guiding students through an analysis of the key ideas and themes that animate the Gettysburg Address and the structure and craft with which Lincoln developed them over the course of three paragraphs, the learning activities will strengthen the higher-order thinking skills students need to meet the Common Core Standards.


What the lesson contains

The elements of the lesson plan includes the following:


The open-ended question guiding this lesson is “How did Lincoln see the Civil War as an opportunity for the nation to bring forth a “new birth of freedom” (or liberty for all), and why was this necessary for the survival of American self-government?”


Active student learning: understanding the implications of the Address

In order to answer this, students need to:

  • Explain why Lincoln thought July 4, 1776, was the birthday of the United States
  • Articulate the connection Lincoln made between emancipation and preserving the Union
  • Describe the "unfinished task" that Lincoln presented to the American people at Gettysburg


In the Background to the Teacher section of the lesson, teachers will find a brief account of Lincoln’s thought written by Lucas Morel, a distinguished student of his political thought. The student activities begin with a first reading of the Address, along with an editorial in the Chicago Times, a Democratic newspaper long critical of Lincoln, published a few days after the Address. The editorial raises this question: How can Lincoln say that our forefathers dedicated this nation to "the proposition that all men are created equal" when the Constitution assumes the inequality of men by permitting and safeguarding slavery? By grappling with this question, students will be primed for the next stage of the activity, in which they read impromptu remarks Lincoln made a few days after the Battle of Gettysburg. In those remarks Lincoln is already thinking of the “great theme” that will constitute the Address:


How long ago is it?—eighty odd years—since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” [Cheers.] That was the birthday of the United States of America.


Now the students return to the Address for a second reading, followed by a series of text-dependent questions. These questions allow students to see for themselves Lincoln’s argument that American constitutional democracy rests on the equality of human beings; that the “great rebellion” against this principle must be put down; and that the “unfinished task” before the American people is to finally make good on the promise of the Declaration by extending “the new birth of freedom” to black people. Students are then expected to weigh the merits of Lincoln’s argument and whether the criticism in Chicago editorial is legitimate and justified.


With this lesson, teachers can challenge their students to understand and appreciate at a very high level one of the greatest “informational” texts in the English language.


Additional Resources



"Lincoln's address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, November 19, 1863," Library of Congress.

There’s an app for that! Now you can engage your students in literacy learning using tablet devices with apps from ReadWriteThink.org. Students can download a mobile app and use it anywhere, anytime. No Internet connection is required once the apps are downloaded. Here are some of the apps available from ReadWriteThink:


Word Mover (Grades 3 – 12)

Word Mover allows children and teens to create “found poetry” by choosing from word banks and existing famous works; additionally, users can add new words to create a piece of poetry by moving/manipulating the text. See additional ways to use the app with this video.


Trading Cards (Grades   3 – 8)

Invigorate students' writing with an interactive tool that allows them to demonstrate their comprehension using a mobile app. Watch the video to learn more about this app.


Acrostic Poems (Grades   K – 12)
Learn about and write acrostic poems, a poetry form that uses the letters in a word to begin each line of the poem. All lines of the poem relate to or describe the main topic word.


Alphabet Organizer (Grades   K – 5)

The Alphabet Organizer lets users create a calendar-style ABC chart or letter pages for an alphabet book.


Diamante Poems (Grades   K – 12)

In this app, users can learn about and write diamante poems, which are diamond-shaped poems that use nouns, adjectives, and gerunds to describe either one central topic or two opposing topics (for example, night/day or winter/spring). Examples of both kinds of diamante poems can be viewed online or printed out.


Venn Diagram (Grades   K – 12)

The Venn Diagram app allows users to compare and contrast information in a visually appealing way.


Theme Poems (Grades   K – 5)
Users learn about and write theme poems, a poem written within the shape of the subject of the poem.


Timeline (Grades   K – 5)
Timeline allows students to create a graphical representation of an event or process by displaying items sequentially along a line, organized by time of day, date, or event and labeled with short or long descriptive text. Addition of an image makes a timeline more visually appealing.

http://www.floridamemory.com/fpc/reference/rc10403.jpgI belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads. —Zora Neale Hurston


A CCSS Exemplar text for grades 11 – College and Career Readiness (Appendix B) Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, is more than simply the coming-of-age story of a woman finding herself and extending her horizons.


A careful record of place and time, this novel brings to life the culture of the first African American-controlled town in Florida and the settlement of black migrant workers in the rich agricultural “muck” around Lake Okeechobee in the early decades of the 20th century. A trained anthropologist and ethnographer, Hurston imbued her characters’ dialogue and descriptive passages with firsthand knowledge of the folk life and folk language of this region.


EDSITEment’s new multicultural literature lesson, Their Eyes Were Watching God: Folk Speech and Figurative Language for the Common Core, provides students with an opportunity to observe how Hurston creates a unique literary voice by combining folklore, folk language, and traditional literary techniques. Students will examine the role that folk groups play in their own lives and in the novel. They will undertake a close reading of passages in Their Eyes Were Watching God that reveal Hurston’s literary techniques and determine their impact on the novel.


The Novel

Hurston’s masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) with its tale of Janie’s three marriages is the pre-eminent novel written by a woman who participated in the Harlem Renaissance. The protagonist of this early feminist “manifesto” liberates herself from the expectations of society and particularly from the men in her life. At the same time, the novel celebrates and preserves a particular time, place, and way of life with the accuracy of an anthropologist.


The National Endowment for the Arts The Big Read selected Their Eyes Were Watching God for “the syncopated beauty of Hurston's prose, her remarkable gift for comedy, [and] the sheer visceral terror of the book's climax,” that “transcend any label that critics have tried to put on this remarkable work.”


Applications for the Common Core

Their Eyes Were Watching God: Folk Speech and Figurative Language offers an application for the Reading Literature Anchor standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.


Activity 1 introduces students to the specialized vocabulary of folklore and has them apply it to Hurston’s fictional writing in the novel. They go on to analyze the impact of Hurston’s choices regarding how she integrated folk groups and folk genre into her narrative. This is followed by Activity 2, in which students identify examples of Hurston’s “eye dialect”—a technique used by writers to simulate speech as it is actually spoken rather than in its polished, abstract, “correct” form.


Worksheet 3 aids students in their task of analyzing the impact of specific word choices on Hurston’s meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings and language that is powerful. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.


Regardless of whether Zora Neale Hurston was using dialect or Standard English, she clearly employed many figures of speech in her writing. The lesson concludes with Activity 3, in which students complete a close reading of several passages from the novel to uncover some of these figurative elements.


Overall, the lesson provides a series of steps in which students can evaluate the effectiveness of these elements in creating Hurston’s unique “voice.” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings: (a) CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5a Interpret figures of speech (e.g., hyperbole, paradox) in context and analyze their role in the text and (b) CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5b Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.


Additional resources

Further background and resources to place Zora Neale Hurston’s life and work in context can be found at the University of Minnesota’s Voices from the Gap. More comprehensive biographical material is available on her official website, Zora Neale Hurston.



State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.


Going Mobile EdChat

Posted by lsfink Oct 24, 2013

Verizon Foundation and its Thinkfinity Content Partners, including ReadWriteThink, are pleased to present the professional development series Going Mobile EdChat. In this series of online PD events, learn from and interact with panel experts around the topic of mobile learning. Each week, watch presentations from our panel experts and then join us at 8 p.m. ET for a #MobileEdChat on Twitter. Ask questions or share your experiences with using mobile learning to engage students. After each week’s presentation, keep the conversation going with discussions in the Mobile Learning Group here in the Thinkfinity Community.


On October 29, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET, join us on Twitter for Going Mobile EdChat: Student Engagement. Leveraging mobile technology for the enhancement of student learning and engagement is necessary with the students of today. Technology-enhanced instruction has the capacity to engage students deeply in their work, connect them with countless resources, and allow them to collaborate across time and space. NCTM Manager of Online Projects Sarah DeLeeuw, Wonder Lead Melissa Edwards, and teacher and author Tony Varrato share tips for using mobile technology to boost student engagement.


On November 5, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET, come back for Going Mobile EdChat: Student-Created Content. Having students utilize mobile technology to create content-related resources encourages them to feel ownership of what they are learning and increases their level of engagement. Join high school teacher Alexia Forhan and middle school teacher Eric Langhorst to discover ways that mobile technology supports students in creating their own learning content.


On November 12, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET, join us for our last event in the series – Going Mobile EdChat: Authentic Tasks. Authentic tasks require students to demonstrate proficiency by applying existing knowledge to solve a real-world problem. Engaging students in projects that allow them to construct their own knowledge and develop authentic products bridges what is learned in the classroom and what is important to the world outside of the classroom. Join Program Director for Technology and Learning at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Bob Hirshon and K-12 Instructional Technology Specialist Kyle Pace as they look at leveraging mobile technology to engage students in authentic tasks.

See videos and conversations at http://bit.ly/MobileEdChat

Despite being editors--or maybe because of it, we aren't sure--the ReadWriteThink team enjoys making up words, especially if the word makes our lives easier and is easily understood in context, which to me are the two best reasons to make up a new word in the first place. Some examples:


  • Revenate: v. to generate revenue. Example: "This is a good idea, but can it revenate?"
  • Interapptive: n. a digital resource that is both an online interactive and a mobile app. Example: "We are building a new Haiku interapptive. It will be released in iTunes, Android, and we'll have the online version!"


Quick and easy to understand. Both are totally cromulent words that embiggen the vocabulary.


Yeah, I just referenced the Simpsons on this blog. I feel this clip teaches the use of context clues to understand unknown words wonderfully.


This brings us to "to their peril." I mentioned elsewhere that I am all for putting students in peril. Not a lot of peril, mind you, as that is too perilous, but a little peril can be a good thing.


I first made this statement while we were working on the new Venn Diagram interapptive. In fact, if I remember correctly, I even wrote in the specs something like "The Venn diagram should open with two circles, but students can add as many circles as they want to their peril." This statement got some laughs from my coworkers, Bridget and Becky.


to their peril.jpg


A thing to note: the released version of Venn Diagram only allows two or three circles.


When designing interapptives, I come at them with the idea that user should not be insulated from failure, how-so-ever failure might be defined in the context of the activity at hand. Students can learn from failure, and sometimes even learn more from failure. In the case of the Venn interapptive, a student can fail by placing items in the wrong section of the circle (and thus being incorrect), or--in the case of unlimited circles--a student can fail when the Venn diagram no longer makes information easier to read and understand, which is the entire point of using one in the first place.


Why did we ultimate limit the circles to three and thus take away the peril? It was decided that for the grade range for which the interappitve was designed, two- and three-circle Venns were most appropriate and that having the option to create more could end up being a distraction rather than a teachable moment. Also, understanding that more circles does not mean better Venn diagram goes beyond self-regulation to outside regulation from a teacher, guardian, or peer. Without someone explaining that the multiple circles can be confusing, the user might never see that on their own. We felt that the interapptive was not the best vehicle for the lesson.


One lesson we do feel the interapptives are good for teaching is editing and economy of words. We very purposefully character limit things. Sure, part of the decision is layout/visual appeal. However, many of our resources, like the Venn, Essay Map, and Persuasion Map, are graphic organizers. The entire point is to not write a draft, but to teach users to refine their thought processes and write concise, brief statements.


We don't always remove all the peril. Many users have asked for spell checkers in our interapptives, something we consider every time and ultimate decide not to add. This really came front and center with Resume Generator. On the one hand, we were making an advanced, complex interactive (not interapptive; there is no app version yet) for upper-level students to use to create a professional resume. As such it is the only interactive (that I know of) that has no branding on the printout: We wanted users to be able to use the final printout as an official resume.



That's a nice looking resume!


One of the most important aspects of a resume is accuracy--no grammar mistakes, no spelling mistakes, not layout mistakes. The Resume Generator handles the layout, but we felt the editing and proofreading steps were too important for users to learn for us to have the interactive do that for you. Furthermore, we didn't want users relying on a grammar checker and spell checker, which are not 100% accurate. Users must edit and proofread themselves, to their peril!



Monarch_In_May.jpgA novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart. —Julia Alvarez


A CCSS Exemplar text for grades 9–10 (Appendix B), In the Time of Butterflies is complex coming-of-age novel perfect for a high school English Language Arts course or literature circle selection. With its unique structure of time frames and alternating voices, this novel provides a context for students to examine the struggles of women to secure their human, civil, and economic rights in countries around the world today.


EDSITEment’s new World Literature lesson, Courage In the Time of the Butterflies: A Common Core Exemplar, conducts students through a careful analysis of multiple characters demonstrations of different types of courage. Las Mariposas—“The Butterflies”—was the name used by the people of the Dominican Republic to describe the Mirabal sisters, who were assassinated by the dictator Rafael Trujillo for trying to lead a democratic revolution. It also offers a close reading of an informational text, a recent speech delivered by a daughter of one of the sisters to help students better understand the historical legacy of these extraordinary women.


The Novel

Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) tells this story in historical fiction through the voices of the four Mirabal sisters. Based on Alvarez’s personal knowledge of the political situation in the Dominican Republic and her family’s own participation in the resistance movement, the novel conveys authenticity. It is also grounded in extensive research. Alvarez interviewed the surviving sister Dedé and other family members to create unforgettable characters and bridge the gap between biography and fiction.


In the Time of the Butterflies concludes with a postscript in which the author asks herself: What gave the Mirabals that special courage? Alvarez notes this is the question that drove her to write the novel. Her stated intention was to immerse her readers “in an epoch of the life of the Dominican Republic that can only finally be understood by fiction, only finally be redeemed by the imagination.” As they enter the turbulent world of these courageous sisters, your high school students will let you know how successful Alvarez was in accomplishing that goal.


(The Big Read from the National Endowment for the Arts has selected In the Time of Butterflies for its “homage to the bravery and sacrifice of the Mirabal family and a literary work of high grace.”)


Applications for the Common Core

Courage In the Time of the Butterflies offers an application for the Reading Literature Anchor standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Activity 1 has students generate an extended definition of “courage” a central theme in this text, followed by Activity 2, where the development of the sisters’ courage is tracked over the course of the text in order for them to acertain how it emerges in the actions of the sisters throughout the novel. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.


Students unearth the complex motivations of each sister’s character and consider their changing relationships as the story evolves. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.


The lesson concludes in Activity 3 with a speech given by Minerva Mirabal’s daughter Minou on the subject of violence against women. It provides a unique first-hand perspective and special insight into their lives and legacy. This informational text broadens students’ scope and reinforces their understanding of the types of courage they have examined in Alvarez’s characters. A close reading of the speech is followed by a discussion on its relevance to contemporary women in the United States and around the world. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.


Extending the lesson offers additional activities to commemorate the United Nation’s annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th.


Additional Resources

Julia Alvarez (Official website with biographical information, articles, photos, and interviews) contains a film interview of Julia Alvarez on writing In the Time of the Butterflies.


PBS documentary, Latino Americans [Part IV. The New Latinos (1946–1965)] features an interview with Julia Alvarez. In her writing, Alvarez explores the hybrid identity taking shape in a new generation of Latinos, who are now demanding their place in America.



Photo of a monarch butterfly by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson, courtesy of Wikipedia.



Mystery Image Contest

Posted by SThurston Oct 15, 2013

There is less than a week to enter the current Science NetLinks Mystery Image Contest!



This contest's prize is a fantastic set of award-winning books.  Check them out...







As a reminder you can guess as an individual or bring the mystery into your classroom and guess together.  Now start guessing!




AAAS Science NetLinks

Project Director

All About Science

ndow-kindergarten.jpgOn October 20 and 21, writers across the United States will be celebrating the remarkable variety of writing they engage in by talking about and posting on the writing that they do and how they #write2connect.


This year you can join Penny Kittle (@pennykittle) and Katherine Sokolowski (@katsok) on Sunday, October 20, at 8 p.m. ET, for a Twitter Chat (#nctechat) celebrating the National Day on Writing! On October 21, tweet out the way you use writing to make connections and post them to Twitter using the hashtag #write2connect and, if space allows, #dayonwriting.


You can find more ways to celebrate in the Reading and Language Arts Group on the Thinkfinity Community site. For  more  literacy activities,  check out the calendar entries, lesson plans, and classroom activities below.


Featured Resources

From the Calendar

If you have feedback or questions about ReadWriteThink, please contact us.


—Traci Gardner


[Photo: Kindergarten by Independence Learning Commons, on Flickr]


Do You Haiku?

Posted by wford Oct 8, 2013

A few weeks back I posted a little teaser about an up-coming product from ReadWriteThink.org:


Poetry trio

Needs a new companion app

Details forthcoming


I'll note that no one took a stab at guessing what the product might be, so no one gets the really cool prize for guessing it correctly.


"But you never said anything about a prize!" you might say.


"I'm whimsical like that," I would reply.


The poetry trio mentioned in my little poem are the current interactives already available on ReadWriteThink--and soon to be available on your iPad or Android tablet:

  1. Acrostic
  2. Diamante
  3. Theme


The new companion app, that would be Haiku.


Maybe I shouldn't be showing off the concept art...but I'm going to show you the current concept art for the load screen! Cause I'm excited about it and that's what this blog is for, revealing cool things like that. Please note that as concept art, the final app design might look nothing like this, and we cannot vouch for the correctness of the characters used in the image--though we are pretty sure they say "haiku." Anyone out there who can officially vouch that for us?




The real difficulty of the project is teaching the haiku writing process. We want to make sure that the app provides solid haiku writing instruction, not to take it out of the teacher's hands but to make sure students have all the scaffolding they need when it comes time to do the writing. A refresher on what the teacher modeled in the classroom couldn't hurt, right?


But how do you teach haiku writing? That sounds rhetorical, but it isn't. I'm asking: If you have ever taught haiku writing, what did you do? What did you teach? How did you frame the lesson? I've been doing research, and I found fun little inconsistencies like the follow:


  • Traditional haiku are themed around nature or philosophy...but that's not a requirement.
  • Traditional haiku have a juxtaposition statement...but not always.
  • American haiku have three lines...but they don't need to.
  • American haiku follow a 5-7-5 syllable count for the lines...but not all of them.


From my research, haiku writing is fairly free form--not at all what I was expecting when I first delved into the project.


I don't want to write How to Haiku instructions in the app and find them counter to what teachers are teaching in the classroom. I don't want to create an interactive and app that promote a rigid conformity to a three line, 5-7-5 syllable paradigm if that isn't what teachers are modeling.


Just to note, our Haiku app won't force the writer to use three lines (though it will only have three lines available), nor will it enforce a syllable count--in fact, it won't count syllables at all. We leave such checking and correction up to the user. The app can be used to write free-form poetry. But what should the instruction model?


If you have any information about how haiku writing is currently taught in the classroom or how you'd like to see it presented in this product, let me know.


Or to put it another way:


Seeking some experts

On proper haiku techniques

--Wes doesn't have a clue



TRW13_poster_200x300.jpgFrom October 13 to 19 this year, teens will be reading for the fun of it, as hundreds of libraries, schools, and bookstores celebrate Teen Read Week. This year's theme is Seek the Unknown @ Your Library®, which encourage teens to take advantage of reading in all its forms —books and magazines, e-books, audiobooks and more — and to become regular library users.


For  more  literacy activities,  check out the calendar entries, lesson plans, and classroom activities below.


Featured Resources

From the Calendar

If you have feedback or questions about ReadWriteThink, please contact us.


—Traci Gardner

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