Friday, 27 April 2012

Interviewing Kevin McGill!

Today we had the pleasure of speaking with author Kevin McGill via Skype!

Like with previous guest speakers, students paired up to create interview questions, with one student asking the question at the Skype event, and the other student writing them down (oral language curriculum: speaking in a clear coherent manner AND taking notes to record key points of a speaker).

Kevin was a participant last year in my J/I Boy's Literacy Event held here at Goodfellow. He co-created with buddy Luke Navarro (who was a guest speaker with our class in the fall, when we were writing our game reviews!) Kevin is the author of a teen fantasy novel 'Nikolas & Company: The Merman and the Moon Forgotten'. He recently sent his book into space! Check out the video!

Want to know how Kevin got the book down from the tree? Want to why Kevin decided to send his book into space? Want to know why he used a balloon instead of a rocket? How about what his favourite book is? We found out about that, and more...

To document today's interview session, I have created a prezi at Check it out to see what we found out! THANKS KEVIN FOR JOING OUR CLASS TODAY!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

More About Narratives! A GUEST SPEAKER! Plus: Review Writing!


We have completed our short story unit but continue to work with narratives in other ways, for example, by doing 'hot writes' (5 minute writing bursts) which focus on describing in specific detail a character or setting for the other students to guess.

Students have had a lot of fun with this activity.

They have also created 'characters from scratch' as a hot write, in other words, just describing a character for us to picture in our 'minds eye'. Some fun figurative language has naturally arisen in these writing exercises (like 'he smells like a pickle' or 'he has a beard like ZZ Top".)


Rather than writing full short stories, which is a bit time consuming, students are creating short animations using the Frames 4 program. They are to write/show a narrative: it must have character, setting and--and this is the tricky part--a plot, complete with a problem and a solution. Students in this class are endlessly creative at manipulating images and coming up with unique ideas and images...but the next challenge for them is to put those images into a context that tells a story. And, of course, as a media project, they are expected to adjust pacing so it is appropriate and also to add appropriate text and music to support the narrative tale.

Also, as a media project, students are taking the idea of 'character description' and applying it to themselves, creating Who Am I? powerpoint, or Frames 4 video. They are to describe 4 to 5 points about themselves, and include pictures...then, eventually, we will watch these and try to guess who in the class they describe!


Kevin McGill,  writer of the teen fantasy novel Nikolas & Company, is going to be our guest speaker via Skype! I hope to have this occur this Friday! Recently, Kevin launched his book into space...yes, you read that correctly! He LAUNCHED HIS BOOK INTO SPACE! And we watched this video of it. As with previous guest speakers, like Luke Navarro and Chris Simon, students will be creating interview questions and 'acting like reporters' as they interview Kevin this Friday.

Kevin is also co-creator of the Guys Can Read website and podcast (along with Luke Navarro), where he reviews books, and thus can also speak to our ongoing review writing, which is the last and final point of this blog entry...


With our short story study session completed, we will be spending quite a bit of class time on our final large writing assignment, the third in our non-fiction persuasive essays. Near the beginning of the year, students wrote a review about video games...then, in the winter, students wrote a review about one of the Romeo & Juliet, they have a choice, writing a review on either a video game, movie or book of their choice.

These are multi paragraph essays that comprise a summary section, an opinion section and a personal connection (I call these 'triple decker hamburgers' because there are three 'meat patties' aka paragraphs in the middle of two buns (an 'introduction' bun on top and a 'conclusion' bun on the bottom). As usual, students are working on including specific examples, transition words, a variety of sentences, a 'hook' to capture the readers attention (ie: by using a question as an opener).

If you are interested in seeing some of these great reviews, I have a STUDENT ON LINE PORTFOLIO that includes most of the game and movie reviews completed thus far.

As always, any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Financial Literacy, Oral Language & Media

As an oral language project, students recently created a presentation...documenting a dream trip.

This task involved: a) internet research skills b) financial skills (calculating total costs based on real world amounts), c) preparing a media presentation (using the medium of their choice: Frames 4, Prezi, PowerPoint or old fashioned bristol board) and d) oral language skills (speaking to the topic using appropriate terms, clear loud voice, etc)

Students were given 'an unlimited budget' for a long weekend getaway (approximate time frame) that required air flight. They were to research flight times and costs, as well as hotel costs, and transportation at the destination. They were to plan an itinerary (things they planned to do), with incidental expenses included as needed. The total cost of their getaway was to be included (in Canadian dollars). Pictures were also to be included.

Some of the places we have visited so far include Banff, Las Vegas, Cancun, Madagascar, Paris, and Moscow. We are not quite finished, and have a few more places yet to travel to...

With each presentation, we have been noting the 'total costs' of each trip on chart paper. Our final task, once all the presentations are completed, is to look at minimum wage in Ontario and calculate how many hours it would take to work and save for each trip's final tally. Just to put some of these dream trips into perspective!

Here are photos from some of today's presentations!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Narratives...and more!

We have finally moved into a new area of reading study...narratives! This is partly as preparation for our CASI assessments in late April (CASI's are board wide reading comprehension assessment tools performed three times through out the year...the proceeding two were non-fiction, this time it will be fiction). Partly, it is also so we can deepen our discussion (started in our Romeo & Juliet study) about fiction texts.

Our focus will be on:

-explaining the characteristics of narratives and providing specific examples (of character, setting and plot).

-explaining the traits of characters (through stated and implied information) and connecting those traits to evidence in the text

-summarizing important ideas (key events of a plot, using strategies like first/next/then, who/wants/but/so or beginning/middle/end)

-determining the main idea/theme of a text, citing evidence from the text to support your opinion

We have already done quite a bit of work on SUMMARIZING...and CITING EVIDENCE FROM THE TEXT TO SUPPORT YOUR OPINION. These were key components of our last two major writing both our video game and movie/play reviews.

In our writing assignments, I have hammered home the concept of SPECIFIC DETAILS OR EXAMPLES.  I'm hoping, by the end of this year, that I will have ingrained in student memory the high importance of being SPECIFIC, of grounding your writing responses, to whatever it may be--wether a text, movie, game, whatever--in the CONCRETE DETAILS provided there in. The more specific you are, the stronger your point/opinion/answer.  Being specific = clarity. Clarity = good communication.

Good communication is fundamentally what literacy study is all about. Understanding what others have written and in turn writing to be understood.

In our study of narratives, we started with an excerpt from the Hunger Games and are currently reading a modernized version of the Edgar Allen Poe story 'The Cask of Amontillado'. We will be reading additional short stories to examine the above concepts.

And the flip side to always WRITING!

Time permitting, I'm hoping to cap this unit off with student's exploring their own narratives through short fiction writing.

Also, narratives will be included as an option for the final persuasive writing assignment in mid April--a multi-paragraph persuasive essay/review. Students will be writing a review on a video game, movie --or narrative--of their choice as a way to exemplify and consolidate the skills we have been working on with the previous two reviews.