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Tips for Teaching High School English

Thank you for downloading this article. It contains a PDF of a section from Tips For Teaching High School English, a text that is available as an Amazon e-book. The book has garnered very good reviews and is on many of Amazons best seller lists. As the title suggests, the book offers a variety of suggestions to help you work more effectively and have more fun in the classroom. The selection you downloaded is free. The book will only cost you $2.99. The table of contents that follows will give you a very good idea of what is in the book. The chapters that follow will give you a taste of how information is presented in the book. In the e-book, clicking on a chapter title in the table of contents will connect you to the text of the. In the sample, the chapter titles will not connect you to the text. Again thank you for downloading this sample. I hope you have a pleasant and wondeful career as a teacher.

Tips for Teaching High School English Second Edition

Steve Bensinger

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I still have an apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas. -George Bernard Shaw

A Very Simple Technique That Will Save You Hours Buffets A Horn of PlentyOral Book Reports A Simple Way to Increase the Dynamism of Your Discussions Bonus Bucks You Have Two Minutes Left, How to Turn it into Gold: Bonus Buck Questions The Golden Rule Other Key Concepts Help Students Take Notes QuotationsBreaking Large Things down to very Small Parts A Preface A Simple Way to Help Students Learn How to Use Commas Correctly A Simple Way to Help Students Understand Irony When the Text is a Play How to Make Your Discussions More Clear, Keep More Students On Task, and Improve the Quality of Your Discussions: Discussion Guides Tips to Improve Your Discussions of Texts The Case for Reading Long Texts in Small Chunks before They are Discussed The Case for Having Students Read Long Texts in their Entirety before They are Discussed Tips for Introducing Poetry A Recipe for Discussing Poems A Little Effort Reaps a Bounty: Homework Sites Short Takes: A Whole Bunch of Tips that May be Stated in a Paragraph or Two Rubrics, Grade sheets

If Writing Outlines Don't Work for Your Students

Give them Recipes: Thesis Statements Give Students Recipes: Introductions Papers: A Short Buffet Managing the Paper Load: Tips for Grading Papers Returning Papers Pick a Pair: Make a Good Text Better by Pairing it With Another Check out This Literary Term A Few Literary Devices from the Movie Toolbox Looking for Something for the First Day of Class? The Dream Assignment Introducing the Elements of Persuasion: The Aristo tle, McDonalds Connection Persuasion Follow Up Every Four Years Picky, Picky, Picky: Three Lessons That Merit Examining When Most of the Class is Gone Working with Individual Students in Class Communications with Parents Communicating with Students When they are Outside of the Class Tips for First-Year Teachers If You Have Not Yet, Try These: Some Texts that Really Work The Honey and Vinegar Thing: The Case for Teaching Texts Students Enjoy Reading Critical Thinking: Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills Other Resources On the Soap Box: National Issues All Teachers Should Think About Comments, Suggestions, Ideas

A Very Simple Technique That Will Save You Hours

Students have turned in a homework assignment or a quiz. Before you collect them, have a volunteer put them in alphabetical order. Make sure the volunteer is one of the quicker students in the class. Continue with your class while the student puts the papers in alphabetical order. Lets say this saves you three minutes as you record the grades. If you teach five classes, you have just saved yourself fifteen minutes. For someone like me who is a super-klutz at this sort of thing, it probably will save you even more time. Now multiply that by the number of quiz and homework assignments you give in a year. Having a student alphabetize the papers is a little thing, perhaps a very little thing, but over the course of a school year, it can save you a great deal of time. One of the purposes of this book is to provide for you with a buffet of ideas that have been tested and refined in the classroom. My hope is that if you adopt some of the offerings noted here, the complicated job of teaching will become easier for you. I also hope that by implementing some of the concepts in this book you will become a better teacher, and you will have more fun teaching.

Did someone say food?

When I was young, my mother taught me that when you are at a buffet, it is polite to take a little of every item in the buffet. I enthusiastically encourage you not to follow that advice. Rather, take what you like. Allow what you do not like in this book to confirm why what you do is appropriate for the students you teach.

Did I hear horns? Is a marching band coming through?

A Horn of PlentyOral Book Reports

Early in my teaching career, the English department at the school where I worked required students to write a book report every quarter. It was a good assignment, and students were given a good recipe. The assignment helped students cultivate many valuable skills. One day, I grew weary of readingand gradingall those book reports. Eventually I did something about it; instead of having students write the reports, I asked students to give them orally. Some tips on giving oral presentations were tossed into the mix. A question and answer period was added after the reportthis gave me time to fill out the grade-sheet I had prepared. And this turned out to be very important: students had to do the report within a time limitfour minutes. Two students volunteered to be timekeepers, this way if one of the timekeepers became distracted, the other delivered. As each minute passed, the timekeepers flashed the appropriate number of fingers. When time expired, the report was over. Amazing things happened. In the question and answer session, students often asked very good questions. The next quarter, students repeated the exercise. Some students read books they had heard about the first time reports had been given. Students who never had enjoyed reading started reading on their own. Some students became avid readers. A few experimented. One made the leap from reading the very popular and easy-to-read novel by S.E. Hinton to the complex and downright nerdy work of Will and Ariel Durant. After repeating this exercise a few times, most students were much more comfortable speaking in front of the class. A few developed an easy confidence. The assignment evolved: Students were required to bring the book to class a day or two before the report was formally assigned. The requirements were written on the chalkboard, the podium was moved to the back of the class, and students turned their desks around. With the classroom set up like this, the presenters could see the gradesheet on the blackboard. 9

For the first report of the quarter, students received a few points of extra credit if they gave their report without notes. They received more if they did not use the podium. For the third report, no one could use notes. For the fourth report, no one could use notes or the podium. Over time, a few things were obvious. Hearing all those oral book reports gave the class a reservoir of books to reference during discussions. Students continued to improve their abilities to speak in front of groups. The questions students asked improved. Because of the oral reports, many students read more on their own and enjoyed reading more. A third of the students who had never read much outside of class became avid readers. The grade-sheet may be modified to accent something you are working on in class. I am a fan of the anecdotal introductionmore on introductions laterso I often require students to tell an exciting story from one part of the book and then use that to transition to the rest of the report. Often the question and answer period is very interesting. If an important issue does not surface organically, for example, the controversy about the veracity of A Million Little Pieces, I make sure that we talk about it. Even assignments that work as well as this one have a downside. Some students will try to get by without reading the book. Often a students friends will trip them up during the question and answer period. When I am suspicious, I will ask questions until I am convinced the student has or has not read the book. Teachers may want to institute a rule that for a book to qualify for this assignment, the book may not have been made into a movie. There will be books you do not like but students love, and you will have to listen to report after report on what you think is a lousy book. And once a year or so, some teary-eyed student approaches me, usually minutes before the reports are to begin, stating that she or he just cant do the report. Invariably the first effort is challenging, but the next one will be better. Here is a very vanilla grade-sheet. SUMMARY good introduction main characters setting time place 10

major problem how it is resolved enough information to make certain that you read the book COMMENT opinion reason 1 2 3 4 proof 1 2 3 4

PRESENTATION avoid unnecessary ands and ums posture diction The opinion is a simple statement about whether the student enjoyed reading the book or not. This grade-sheet requires at least three reasons and proof for each reason. Advise students to come to the podium with four reasons; that way if they forget one, they still fulfill the requirement. With whodunits or books that are very popular, or books I have not read and intend to read, often I will waive the requirement that students must explain how the problems are resolved. The requirements for the report can, and in many cases, should be modified. The sample noted above is far too simple for a particularly talented group of students. Some teachers may want to modify the requirements from assignment to assignment to accent a literary device or skill they are focusing on in class. Visual aids and/or PowerPoint-type presentations could be folded into the assignment. Some tips: As you introduce the assignment, make it clear that students are not to read their report; rather they should consult their notes but select their words while they are speaking. Give a sample report before students give theirs. Fill in the grade-sheet while the student gives his or her reportnot after. Write a short |every time a student says an unnecessary and or a. Many will be certain that they did not say a 16 times. Have students applaud after each question and answer period. As I write this, I am particularly fond of a version of this assignment I give to seniors at the end of each semester. They read a book on their own. Their report begins with an intelligent introduction and a comment. 11

They then prove four comparisons with the text they discussed during the semester that is most like the book they read. They end the report proving four contrasts with a text they discussed during the semester that is most different from the book they read. This forces students to make lateral connections among at least three texts. Also, this exercise is very good at preparing the class for a review session prior to the semester exams. The larger point is that the requirements for the reports may be vary greatly depending upon what you want the content of report to accomplish. This assignment has led to at least two humorous repercussions. Early in my teaching career, I taught a student who was very short. While the podium in the class where I taught was short enough for other students to use comfortably, this young man could not see over the top of the podium. Fortunately, he had chutzpah. When it was his turn to give his first report, he walked to the front of the class, and simply stood next to the podium. Then he smiled playfully and gave his report. To discourage students from leaning on the podium, I found a very lightweight, very short, and very frail plastic podium. It was old and rickety. It was so light that you could not lean on it, and it was so fragile that if you did lean on it, the podium would break into pieces. It worked very well. Students did not lean on the podium. It was so tiny students soon were happy to step away from it. When I did not need it, the podium did not take up much space. One day some VIPs met in the room where I taught. Someone noticed the podium, put it in the front of the room; a VIP leaned on it, and the podium crumbled. A few hours later, the cleaning staff disposed of the parts, and I lost a very good teaching device. Granted, my motives for starting the oral report were not noble, nor would any intelligent person suggest that this exercise is unique or unusually creative. However, from the start, it was a success, and it led to positive repercussions I could not have anticipated. So-called little improvements, over time, improved the exercise dramatically.

Money, did someone say money? I love money.


A Simple Way to Increase the Dynamism of Your DiscussionsBonus Bucks

I had not been teaching long when I realized an uncomfortable disparity. Students who acted up in a negative way received plenty of attention, but students at the other end of the spectrum, those who were unusually perceptive rarely garnered more than a verbal compliment. For months I wondered, How could a teacher reward students who did unusually good work? Obviously, these students tended to earn better grades and therefore were happier with that aspect of their lives. Yet it seemed to me that the classroom environment would be much better if the unusually insightful student could be praised in a more dramatic way. It took years to come up with the idea of Bonus Bucks. I bought counterfeit money, put a few unique markings on the bills, and named them Bonus Bucks. When a student asked an unusually good question, made an unusually good comment, or did very well on a particular aspect of an assignment, I awarded her or him a Bonus Buck. If this happened during a discussion, we often stopped the class, gave the appropriate student some applause, awarded her or him the buck, and then moved on. If by the end of the semester, a student accumulates five Bonus Bucks, she or he receives an extra 100 that is weighted as a quiz grade. The bar for what merits a Bonus Buck should be high. If the class spends an entire period discussing a text, my hope is that one or two students will make a comment that deserves a Bonus Buck. In a set of a hundred and thirty papers, three students might earn Bonus Bucks for a particularly elegant comment or an unusually astute observation. Students have been informed that I am particularly fond of lateral connections between texts. For example, both Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby keep people at a distance. It is no surprise that students love to be awarded the Bonus Bucks. The reward encourages other students to be more on task. The incentive Bonus Bucks create adds to the dynamism of the class. A couple suggestions: Most of the time I realize a very good comment when it is mentioned. But it not unusual for some time to pass before I 13

comprehend how intelligent a comment was. At the end period, often I will award one or more Bonus Bucks. If a student lobbies for a Bonus Buck, that student has eliminated any chance of earning one. Bonus Bucks may not be exchanged or traded. If a Bonus Buck is lost, it will not be replaced. Bonus Bucks may be rolled over from one year to another. Theres no doubt that the Bonus Bucks solved the problem that bothered me. But other, unanticipated benefits from the Bonus Bucks came with the implementation of another teaching technique.

Questions, arent those the things that come before answers?


You Have Two Minutes Left, How to Turn it into Gold: Bonus Buck Questions
It is not unusual to have one or two minutes left over at the end of a period. When this happens, give the students a Bonus Buck question. Its a riddle. To attempt to solve the riddle, students may ask questions that may be answered yes or no. Students who ask a question that leads to a positive response may ask another question. The student who solves the riddle earns a Bonus Buck. Often it will be appropriate to award a Bonus Buck to the student who asks the question that directly leads to the riddle being solved. The riddles can be very simple: Oprah Winfrey and Elvis have many things in common. This question is about one particular commonality. What is it? The riddles can have a long set-up. Ned and Ed are twinsand very nice guys. One Friday on the way home from work, each does a few errands for his wife. Each goes to the grocery store, buys milk, diapers, and a giant bag of corn chipseach brother married a woman who loves corn chips. Each also stops by the video store and picks up a DVD. Each puts the items he has picked up in a recyclable bag. After each brother returned to his car, he put the bag on the floor behind the passenger seat. Each brother then got gas and drove home. Ned and Ed live in almost identical houses. When Ned is a few feet from his house, he reaches up, pushes the button on the gadget attached to his visor, and his garage door opens. Ed is about to do the same when his garage door opens by itself. Why? Students love the questions. They encourage students to think critically. They encourage students to listen to other students questions and the responses to them. They fertilize creativity. They add a significant dynamism to the class that is contagious. And students who rarely participate in discussions often are active participants in the Bonus Buck Q and A. Rarely are the questions answered quickly. After a particular riddle is solved, review the strategies that were used to solve the riddle with the students. A few general principles: Broad questions are better than narrow 15

questions. For the first question, the one about Oprah and Elvis, it is far better to ask if it has something to do with their physical appearance than it is to ask if it is it that both have black hair. The second question, the one about the garage door seemingly opening magically, is loaded with superfluous information. Advise students to use their questions to narrow in on the essential information. Emphasize the importance of keeping track of the responses. One year at the school where I work, we were given Smart Boards and a laptop to operate them. I did not have my own classroom and so had to pack up at the end of the period and hurry off to another room to set everything up for the next class. These were, I thought, good reasons to drop the Bonus Buck questions. This was a big mistake. The sizzle the Bonus Buck questions generated had a positive impact on the atmosphere in the classroom, and not having that sizzle deflated the dynamism in the class significantly. Amazingly, if one class answers the question, students from that class generally will not share the answer with students from other sections. Some questions go out of date. If you have not solved the riddles poised by the two questions noted earlier, here are the answers: Presleys ancestors owned slaves. One of Winfreys ancestors was one of them. The remote to Eds garage door was misplaced on the back floor of his car. When he put the bag that contained a container of milk on the device, it clicked it on. It was still on when he approached his garage. Because of this, the door opened. A few tips: From my point of view, Bonus Buck questions work best at the end of class. This is because you have a definite end. Use them at the beginning, and you run into the temptation of spending too much time with them. The riddles are more enticing if it takes a few days to solve them. If you spend a lot of time with them at the beginning of class, it is possible students will solve them quickly. Bonus Buck questions are a spice to add a little kick to the end of the class; they are not the main dish. A list of Bonus Buck questions follow. For reasons I cannot explain, the best questions are slightly autobiographical. So, I encourage you to think up questions from your life. For more questions, consult web sites or books that include lateral thinking questions. 16

Before Ned and Ed were married, they were very poor. They lived in identical trailers. They had identical cast iron skillets. They didnt like the light rust that formed on the skillet after it was washed. No matter how much they dried the skillets with a towel, they had this light layer of rust. One day Ned figured out how to prevent the rust from forming. How did he do this? He turned on the stove, put the pan on the stove, and waited until all the water had evaporated. Lazy Harry is married to a beautiful and intelligent woman. He is brilliant, rich, and very economical with his movements. He has just finished his breakfast, and like all good Lakers fans, he is watching the Lakers highlights from the night before on SportsCenter. He has to leave for work in two minutes to make a very important meeting on time. He sees an advertisement for a program he wants to record on his Tivo (or if you prefer, his VCR). But he cant find the remote for the Tivo. And he doesnt have time to find it. Without using manual controls, two minutes later he is his BMW on his way to work and the important meeting. How did he set up his Tivo? He is smart and rich. He had a second Tivo with an identical remote in his study. Lazy Harry and his wife have just had a new refrigerator and a new washer and a new dryer installed in their luxurious house. Harry had worked from home while nice people delivered and installed the appliances. Lazy Harry was still working when his beautiful and usually pleasant wife arrived home from her job. She was in a nasty mood, and it grew worse when she realized the boxes from the appliances were in the driveway. Angrily she said, Im going shopping, and when I return, I dont want to see those boxes in the driveway. It is 110 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Harry is lazy and doesnt want to get all sweaty. He leaves his study for a few minutes, and when he returns he has not broken a sweat. He did not get help from anyone. When his wife returned, she apologized for being so shrewish and thanked him for putting the boxes away. How did Harry do it? 17

In his car, he turned on the AC, and drove over the boxes until they were flat enough to hide under his car. These questions require a little research. Find a few students who are left-handed. Lets say it is Maria and Paul. The Bill Clinton, G W Bush, Barack Obama, Maria, and Paul connection. They are all left-handed. You can do a similar riddle if you find one or more students who play the piano and plug them into the Harry Truman, Richard Nixon connection. Perhaps you teach The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. And you teach a student named Phoebe and another named Tom. What is the American Literature, Phoebe, and Tom connection? Phoebe and Tom have the same names of characters in two of the novels students have read and discussed. Jill, a sophomore in high school, was in a van listening to her i-Pod, doing homework, and thinking about going out with her friends that evening when a man broke into the van and was about to kidnap her. What did Jill do to prevent the kidnapping? She threatened to use her iPod to call the police. This scared the would-be criminal enough to leave. When they built the Metro in Washington, D.C. under Sixteenth Street, a prominent street, they found a tunnel that ran from a hotel to a private house on the opposite side of the street. Why was the tunnel built? A president used it to meet his mistress. He would wave to reporters, enter the hotel ostensibly for a poker game, visit his mistress, and exit via the hotel. Maria studies ants. Ants routinely send out scout ants on reconnaissance missions. One day, a certain hive sends out ten scouts to find food. All ten find the same half-eaten cookie. Almost all of the ants take Scout Number Tens route to the cookie. Maria measured the route. Scout Number Tens route was the most direct path to the cookie. Repeatedly this happens. How is it that the ants are smart enough to pick the most direct route to the food? 18

The scout with the most direct route is usually the first one to return. Bob and Juan are camping in Northern Minnesota. They love to fish and hike, so they hike from lake to lake and fish. They are in a very remote area. Their cell phones do not work. Juan is huge, six feet-five inches tall and he weighs over two hundred and fifty pounds. They are leaving one lake to go to another, when Juan falls. He has compound fractures in both legs. He is bleeding badly. They both realize that if they do not get Juan to a hospital, he will die. Juan comes up with a plan that works. What is it? Bob builds a raft, puts Juan on it, and torches the forest. Bob paddles the raft to the middle of the lake. When rescue planes come by, Bob waves. Lazy Harry loves pineapple juice. One morning his wife was out of town for a business trip. While eating breakfast, he poured some pineapple juice from a container into a glass. He drank the pineapple juice, and left the container on the counter. When he returned from work, the juice container was on its side. No one had been in the house. Their pets were at the vet. How did it tip over? Harry had emptied the pineapple juice container. But it was a hot day and as remnants heated, gas in the container expanded the plastic so much that the bottom became curved, and the container tipped over. Teddy is a young boy who has just learned to tell time. Teddy and his father hurry into town. Teddys family has a roof that leaks. Storm clouds are gathering. Teddy goes into town with his father to find a friend of his fathers who is great at fixing things. They need someone to fix the roof of their houseand quickly. In an attempt to find Teddys fathers friend, in a period of less than five minutes, Teddy and his father walk into and out of four different stores. They do not find Teddys fathers friend. In each store, Teddy asks what time it is. Each question leads to very different answers. One clerk says, 3:00, another says 3:15, a third says 2:56, someone else says 3:19. What is going on? It is 1850. Clocks are popular but time has not been standardized yet. Until the railroads came along, there was no real need to standardize time. So the time varied wildly.


Lazy Harry and his wife love to watch birds. One reserve they frequent abuts a luxury hotel. While eating lunch on the terrace of their hotel room, Harrys wife, Mona looks down at the pool directly below them. No one was in the pool. No leaves were in the pool. Nothing but sky was above the pool. But at one place in the pool, there is a tiny, perfectly round shadow. Why? A jet that circulates the water into the pool created a small river-like current of new water. When this small river-like current ran out of velocity, it created a whirlpool that, in turn, created the shadow. There is a particular charm to a question that involves a student when that student does not have any more of a clue to the answer than the other students do. Some questions that are very challenging to one class will be solved quickly by another. Some riddles are just too hard. When that is the case, offer the solution and move on. But rarely do I solve the puzzle for them. I really did put a load of groceries on a garage door opener, leave an empty juice container out on a hot day, and see a shadow in a pool at noon from a second story windowthe bird watcher stuff is fictional. Gold? Gold? I love gold more than money.


The Golden Rule

Most of this text is made up of suggestions for refining and improving exercises you have students do. The suggestions inform you about what you can do. But it is impossible to overstate the importance of how teachers do something. In my opinion, the golden rule for all good teachers is this: Praise is a better teacher than I ever will be. But it has to be honest. Model teaching with this intent: Give students tasks. Make them fair and challenging, and infuse everything you do with the enthusiasm and the intelligence that gives students the opportunities they need to succeed. When students succeed, praise them as much as you can, but be honest.

Good ideas. I think I had one of those once.

Another Very Good Idea

It is better for the students to discover something than for you to tell them.


Keys? I lose mine a lot.

Other Key Concepts

Keep your eyes and ears open. Students will teach you much of what you need to know. If something is not going well, try to fix it. If something is going well, try to improve and/or learn from it. Break down complex tasks into components. Give students recipes. Revise.

Text massage? I like massages, but with words?


Help the Students Take Notes

Most students send many text messages every day. Text messages are a great place to start when you discuss note taking. Text messaging uses abbreviations; note taking requires abbreviation. Some text abbreviations are universal, some are unique; students should develop their own shorthand that is a blend of universal and unique abbreviations. Some teachers will collect and grade notes. Some simply will give general instructions. Do what suits your students, because sadly, without some guidance, the average student will text away but rarely will apply the concepts of texting to taking notes. Breaking things? Im very good at breaking things.


QuotationsBreaking Large Things down to very Small Parts

It often is challenging to determine how to start to untangle a texts complexities. Older works provide particular challenges. Sometimes with older texts, in a particular scene, students do not even know what is being said; therefore, they have little hope of understanding why a particular comment is significant. Especially with older texts, it is essential to start with small, simple pieces. An effective way to do this is to select key quotations and instruct students to take notes on three aspects of each quotation: 1) Who says it? 2) What does it mean? 3) Why is it significant? In MacBeth, (I, i), Three characters say, Fair is foul, and foul is fair. 1) The three witches. 2) What is good is bad, and what is bad is good. 3) It is significant for many reasons: a. Things are not what they appear to be. i. There will be more of this laterfor example, the trees moving. b. This is an example of foreshadowing. What is bad will be perceived by some to be goodfor example, when Hamlet and his wife perceive it to be a good idea to kill the king. c. Also, it is an example of cosmic synchronicity, the churning and violent weather reflects the mood of the play. Lets do one more. In MacBeth (II, iii), a character says, Theres daggers in mens smiles. 1) Donalbain says it. 2) MacBeths smile is suspicious. 3) The quotation is significant because it shows: a) Donalbain is perceptive. b) Donalbain does not trust MacBeth. c) If smiles are a form of deceit, the world is upside down. d) Donalbain realizes MacBeth may be thinking murderous thoughts. 24

e) This and other comments eventually provide the rationale for Donalbain and his brother to get out of Scotland. This technique allows all students to participate. Call on a student of modest ability to answer the first question. Intelligent questions from you combined with students rereading the quotation will help the students discover what a line means and why it is significant. Helping students discover key ideas is far better than having you tell them what the key ideas are. Students feel more engaged. Often they feel a sense of mastery. And students will listen more intently to other students than to the teacher. Obviously, if the discussion becomes bogged down, or if what should be a discussion turns into a guessing game, it is time to announce the appropriate conclusions. When you have finished a quotation, have a student who takes good notes repeat a very pithy version of what has been said. If you select quotations carefully, the key events, ideas, motifs, and literary devices of a text will unfold almost effortlessly. From the students point of view, the material will be easy to digest. You may organize your quotations chronologically. You may organize your quotations around an idea, character, event, or motif. You may punctuate your quotations with other aspects of the text you want to discuss. In a well-organized discussion, each quotation is like a plank you use to build a series of springboards. Each springboard helps students leap into the rarefied air of the subtle ideas in the text. Breaking down quotations follows a key idea essential to good teaching: break large pieces into components. This technique works with texts in any genre in any time period. With most contemporary works, you often will be able to transition through the first two steps of the process (Who said it? What does it mean?) very quickly. Rarely will quotations alone cover all you will want to discuss in a text. But the quotations will do a very good job of providing the information you will need to discuss the significant large and small concepts in any text.


Isnt a preface supposed to be at the beginning?


A Preface
I have taught for over thirty years. Many years I had to develop a new curriculum or adjust to teaching what was, for me, new curriculum. All this changing forced me continually to reexamine what I was doing in the classroom. Many things frustrated me. I like to experiment. I like to think I have addressed many of the problems I have bumped into. I hope I have come up with a few ideas and techniques that merit sharing. It is likely you are a very good teacher, or you would not bother reading this. Because you are a good teacher, you probably already do many of the things good teachers always have done and always will do. It is likely you do some version of many of the techniques that follow. Tips for Teaching High School English does not offer advice for dealing with an unusually recalcitrant student, the helicopter parent, or an excrement-for-brains administrator. Nor do I have a magic wand or a giant silver bullet. One reoccurring theme is that tiny improvements can, over time, lead to very good things. And if you take four or five incremental improvements, the whole of them working together will be significantly larger than one of them working individually. When examples are necessary to illustrate a generalization, most have been selected from MacBeth, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Ryenot because they were written by white guys who now are dead, but because they are texts familiar to many high school English teachers. You will notice many examples from the movie Ordinary People. In one of the later chapters, I will explain why I think this is an unusually important text. Most of Tips for Teaching High School English showcases suggestions that are general and elastic and will fit into almost any English curriculum. In the final chapters, the comments are more prescriptive. Though I developed most of the techniques illustrated in Tips For Teaching High School English, I make no claim that any of the ideas in this book are original. And though it is implied, let me clearly state you are invited to use any aspect of this book in your classroom without acknowledgment. 27

Because the table of contents in e-books makes it so easy for readers to bounce from one chapter to another, and because many will elect to read only a few chapters of this text, a few times nuances connected with particular teaching technique are repeated. For example, in the chapter on rubrics, I advise teachers to have students put the rubrics at the top of the paper. The same advice is mentioned in the chapter on grading papers. Before you hurry off to the next chapter, please pay attention to this! Few careers are as important or as steeped in dignityor as maligned or misrepresentedas teaching. Thank you for the thousands of things you do to help the students you teach become more knowledgeable, skillful, curious, and wise!

Commasarent those the things you put in a sentence when you dont know what to put in a sentence?


A Simple Way to Help Students Learn How to Use Commas Correctly

Students at all levels need help determining how to use commas. A little research showed that there are more rules for using commas than there are guidelines for greeting English royalty. After some significant cussing and swearing, I realized that if you use nine rules, you cover almost all the uses of a comma. Cue the music, and the announcer with the deep, resonant voice: And here they are. 1) independent clause, conjunction independent clause Jane is a friend, and she walks with me to school. 2) introductory words, However, 3) introductory phrases, Along the way to the store, he saw a friend. 4) introductory clauses, Though Juanita was thinking of going to a movie, she decided to take a walk. 5) items in a series He bought apples, oranges, and peaches. 6) co-ordinate adjectives warm, gentle, affectionate father 7) quotations a) She said, Hi. b) Hi, she said. 8) non-essential phrases Antonio, a friend of mine, is a basketball fan 9) dates and places December 12, 2010 Deerfield, Illinois Some will suggest that rule fiveitems in a seriesshould be amended so that the comma before the and is optional. Here is an 29

example that follows that suggestion: Yolinda, Mary and John went to the dance together. Not using the comma before the and sets a sloppy precedent. With the comma, we know that Mary and John are not a couple. Without the comma, there is ambiguity. Though it is likely civilization as we know it will continue if such horrendous malfeasances continue, my suggestion is that given that civilization has parked itself on some sandy precipices, we should not take the risk. And yes, these guidelines blur the line between appositives and nonessential phrases. If you want to break that rule into two and explain the difference, please do. Two simple guidelines will help students understand rule number six. A coordinate adjective is one that follows two criteria: if the phrase still makes sense if you can reverse the adjectives, and if the phrase makes sense if you can replace the comma with an and. Before students can apply the rules, they need to learn them. Ask students to list them on quizzes and tests for a few weeks. Then on quizzes and tests have them insert commas into sentences that need them. Do these guidelines eradicate the issues all students had with commas? Of course not. But students who learn the guidelines dramatically improve their ability to use commas correctly. Im lousy at this ironing thing.


A Simple Way to Help Students Understand Irony

It is like music at a rock festivaleverywhere. And like music, it enlivens almost every situation it inhabits. Since it is such a common and effective tool, it merits examination. To help students improve their understanding of irony and to help them better diagnose its use, have them learn this: four kinds of irony Verbal irony: saying one thing and meaning another Example: Go play on the yellow line. Sarcasm often is verbal irony Dramatic irony: when the audience perceives something a character does not Example: In a story, while in the act of picking someones pocket, a pickpocket unknowingly has his wallet taken. Irony of situation: discrepancy between the expected results and the actual results. A couple fight, separate, and when they meet on a ship, reconcile. As they make up and kiss, the reader is informed that on a wall above them is a lifesaver with the word Titanic printed on it. Socratic irony: a method of questioning where the questioner knows the answer to the question. When the math teacher asks, Two plus two is? Have the students learn the definitions by listing them on quizzes and tests. Then ask students to apply themduring discussions, and on quizzes, and on tests.


I had a job as a guide once. Dis caused me to get a lotta people lost.

How to Make Your Discussions More Clear, Keep More Students On Task, and Improve the Quality of Your Discussions: Discussion Guides
Lets say the students have read The Great Gatsby, and there are ten things you want to discuss. In addition, you have a plan that will help students understand all ten of those things. Write a version of your plan in broad terms. Lets say you want to begin by discussing Gatsby. You might write that part of your discussion guide this way. 1) Gatsby, part I a) Put the following in chronological order: throws great parties, gets rich, meets Daisy, goes to war, buys the house on Long Island, attends Oxford, rents a room to Nick b) youth c) meeting Daisy d) war i. 70 I tried very hard to die, but it seemed I bear an enchanted life. e) after the war i. 141 ii. 174 paragraph that begins Young Parkes in trouble iii. How did G make all that money? f) quickly: a few historical things about the period i. moral case for prohibition ii. supply and demand and cost of alcohol during prohibition 32

a short audio clip from Okrents Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1& t=1&islist=false&id=126613316&m=126669501 g) Why did G make all that money? h) 83 G Why did G buy the house he bought? i) Why does G throw the parties? j) 84 Why did G have NC arrange the meeting with G and DB? k) some quotations i. 50 didnt cut the pages ii. 51 Werent you in the Third Division during the war? iii. Reread 107- 110 while asking you this question: Does G understand the manners of the rich? Come up with an opinion; write bullet points to support it. iv. Why does this matter? l) Is G a person with a clear set of morals? m) Is G a realist or is he a romantic? n) There will be more comments about G near the end of our discussion. iii. When you are happy with your discussion guide make copies and give them to students. Discussion guides are valuable because they help make it easy for students to follow what is going on in class. If a student daydreams on item two, and then comes back to the discussion for item three, the student knows what notes she or he has to obtain. Lets say the first day you discuss Gatsby, you cover items one through three on your discussion guide. A student who was absent that day may pick up with item four, and then obtain the notes from items one through three. Consider your discussion guide to be a road map. Perhaps you are discussing item three, but a students question takes you to item nine. You use the energy generated by the student to steer the class to item nine. You cover that, and then return to item three. Discussion guides do not restrain flexibility; they make it easier to be flexible. Discussion guides help make the conversations you have with the class clearer. 33

Some tips: If you intend to refer to quotations, include page numbers. When necessary add line numbers. If students have more than one edition of the text, include page numbers for all editions. For short quotations, include the entire quotation on the guide. You may require students to bring texts to class. You may set severe consequences for students who do not bring their texts to class. If one or ten students do not bring the text to class, in addition to dealing with the consequences, they will be at a supreme disadvantage during the discussion if they cannot look at the quotations. Print out more handouts than you need. A few students will lose their guides. At the end of a particular class, make a note where the class stopped. Integrate good practices: review during the class, and at the end, summarizeor have a student summarize. If you cue up something on YouTube or refer to something on the web, put the URL on the discussion guide. That way you will not have to look it up, and students who were absent or want to see something again may access the site. When you discuss a text, there will be surprises. This will keep the discussion interesting for them and for you. Often you will lead them to discover something, and this is far better than telling them something. Mix things up. When appropriate, use film and audio clips. With Gatsby, after students have talked about Daisy for a while, have one-half of the class argue she was a love goddess, and have the other half argue she was a wimp. Or, after discussing a few characters, you may ask students to make lists that compare and contrast two of the charactersor you may begin a discussion of characters by having students compare and contrast two characters. When dealing with questions that have slippery answers, give students a little time, often just a minute or two, and have them make a few notes before you discuss the question. A few examples of questions that have slippery answers follow: Who is more ambitious, MacBeth or Lady MacBeth? Is the title of The Great Gatsby ironic? What do the last two lines of Catcher suggest about Holden? Following up on this idea, give students a great deal of time to think about a rich aspect of a text. It often is a good idea to give students a homework assignment on the text you are discussing and use the answers 34

on the assignment as a starting point for a discussion of it. A few possible examples follow. Have the students do a line-by-line interpretation of MacBeths soliloquy in the fifth scene of act five. List the lies Gatsby tells and what they lead to. In Chapter 18 of Catcher in the Rye, there is a fascinating sequence where Holden goes to a sappy movie. He comments about how phony it is, but he stays to watch the entire movie. Next to him is a woman who loves the movie but treats a child miserably while she watches the movie. Have the students reread the section and comment on what Holden hates, why he stays, why the author included the woman who treats the child poorly, and the purpose of the sequence. The students responses will lead to a rich discussion. These kinds of exercises are unusually valuable. I am very reluctant to call on a shy student. However, when that student has had time to think and write about a question, and that student has the response in front of her or him, I often will call on a shy student. This is a roundabout way of noting that there are ways to use discussion guides to increase the number of students who participate in discussions. Include a few things you can skip if you have to. Special schedules, athletic events, and school events often mean that one section of a class will be dramatically shorter than the others. You will want enough material to keep all of your sections busy. An easy way to do this is to have fifteen to thirty minutes of material you may exclude. Film clips and videos from YouTube often showcase ideas that are entertaining but not essential. The first time you discuss any text some parts will go very well and some parts will be rocky. The day you discuss the rocky portion do some trouble-shooting and figure out a better way to do it, then revise your discussion guide. Continue to tinker with your discussion guides. If, every year you make a few modest improvements, over time your discussion guides will become much better.