24 February 2014

Wild Self: Descriptive Writing using Avatars

To practise the great work we have done lately on figurative language, I decided to use the website Build Your Wild Self hosted by New York Zoos and Aquariums.

Learners had to create a Wild Self from the myriad possibilities of the selector tool. They then had to write a detailed description that would allow someone else to try to recreate the avatar they had designed. This meant they had to employ their newly polished descriptive writing skills.

Once they had written their descriptions, learners were put into pairs to read out their descriptions. Their partner had to draw what they heard and then compare to the original to see how well the descriptions had been written.

I enjoyed the cries of, "I used a simile Miss!" when they were drafting their descriptions and the results were incredible. The accuracy of the representations is testament to how well my learners are developing as writers from the opportunity Spilling Ink gives them to explore and play with language outside of formal assessment requirements.

A gallery of some of the recreations along with the original creations are below:-

15 February 2014

Teaching Figurative Language

Sometimes, with all the best will in the world, and even with eons of research and hours of planning, the best lessons are the spontaneous ones. The ones that serendipitously arise from teachable moments. I experienced such as occasion over the past week.

Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory
My Year 8s are learning about different cultures and traditions around the world. Underpinning the unit is the novel Ties That Bind, Ties That Break by Lensey Namioke, which concerns foot binding in China at the beginning of the twentieth century. From this, I teach note-taking and search strategies, while groups learn to research customs and traditions of a country of their choice. The culmination of the project is an exhibition of their findings.

A new teacher joined our team part way through this unit. She wanted to have a piece of writing to gauge her class's needs. So, as part of the novel study, we built in personal account writing. I developed the task for my class to write a diary entry or blog post in character about an important event. We discussed purpose and audience, and we learned about past tense and first person. As an extension, we asked for similes and metaphors - but this ended up being a major focus for my class.

Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory
I happened to be reading The Impossible Knife of Memory at the same time, and found some excellent passages, which also led to a reading and analysis of Dulce et Decorum est! We covered more than simile and metaphor, and learned about denotation, connotation, personification and anthropormorphism. This developed into a mini unit that explored how we think and talk about a writer’s choice of language and the effect on the reader.

The results were astounding. Every learner wrote a personal account that showed a detailed understanding of the character using past tense and first person. Each learner included some figurative language. Some learners brought tears to my eyes because of the incredible imagery they used. I was blown away by some learners who, even though they are second language learners, have grasped the concept of metaphor and personification, and have crafted language that brings the emotions of Ailin vividly off the page. I am going to ask permission to share some of their work, as it is truly astounding.

And all from reading the right book at the right time.

The Impossible Knife of Memory: Review

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

It might be safe to say that I inhaled this book and its incredibly crafted story, breathing out the smoke of words I digested and chewed over, coating my classroom in metaphors both grotesque and moving.

This novel was the first of the Book a Month Challenge myself and my PLN established on Twitter, and I enjoyed this novel both as a reader and as a teacher.

My learners noticed my reading it around the corridors; parents stopped me in the car park to ask what I was reading and to make sure I didn't walk into anything.

An intriguing and moving novel about an intense father-daughter relationship of trauma and heartache, Amazon describes it as "Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down" - I guess I cannot disagree.

I have taken and used many passages to teach figurative language as the writing demonstrates metaphor and personification in a complex yet accessible way. This novel will be read again to absorb the beauty of language and will take permanent residence on the shelves of my classroom library.

Boxers & Saints: Review

Boxers and Saints boxed set
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers and Saints are two graphic novels that tell the same story from a different perspective of one of the most controversial episodes of modern Chinese history.

I read Saints first. In this beautifully illustrated graphic novel, the protagonist is a young girl who, born as the fourth and only surviving child, on the fourth day of the fourth month is deemed bad luck. Synonymous with death, Four Girl is shunned and miserable in a village that has no place for her. She is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana (as her new name is given to her by the foregin devils) must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

Boxers tells the opposite side of the story from the perspective of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao is inspired by visions of the Chinese gods and joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful - but at what cost. Only by reading both novels do you get to fully appreciate the horrors of all involved.

Both characters cross paths and the stories intersect at various points - meaning there is no right or wrong order in which to read them. The two sides of the same tale, however, lend an interesting and fully rounded exploration of this time in Chinese history. Included in Singapore's Red Dot Awards this year, I am sure they will be a strong contender for the top slot and will have a place on the shelf of my classroom library for many years to come.