Professional Books to Read Again

Professional Books to Read Again

So many books, so little time. This is my mantra. It is very rare for me to read a book more than once unless of course, I’m using that book in class and then it’s likely I’ve read it 10 times. When it comes to professional books with teaching ideas and strategies I generally rely on my sticky notes or marginal notes to help me use what I’ve read. 

Then there are those professional books that are worth reading over and over again. Sometimes it’s necessary to read cover to cover all over again. Maybe it’s been a few years since reading it for the first time or maybe it was something you used for a while but a new initiative took you a different direction and now you want to go back. 

Taking on a new position in a new district with a new grade level has me reading and learning like I’m back in grad school. Revisited some of my most beloved professional books not only reminds me of the great ideas I once used but also reignites my teaching passion. 

Here are a few professional books that I continue to go back to over and over again. Even when I’ve read and highlighted the heck out of them, there is still something that sparks an idea or reminds me of something I used to do that I should bring back or sometimes I read something new I didn’t remember noticing before. 

Remember those professional books stuffed on that shelf hidden from view? Maybe it's time to dust them off and read them again. Here are three professional books I'm choosing to read again for fresh teaching ideas.

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Shake Up Learning by Kasey Bell

About the time Kasey published this book I had stumbled upon her website. So I was consuming everything she was writing and sharing as quickly as I could. When she asked for readers to join her book launch team I was all in. 

Being a part of this team forced me to devour the book quickly. The book shared a whole new concept of teaching that I had not fully considered. Teachers always talk about engaging their students. It’s become a buzz word. However, Kasey’s concept of the 4 C’s and creating dynamic learning experiences was about more than adding engagement, it was about making bigger changes. I’ve been in education long enough to see major change take place. With the addition of technology and the change in how students are engaging with their learning, it’s important for teachers to change as well. 

YES! Change is inevitable. We can either let it break us or we can learn to find ways to turn it into an advantage. We’ve all probably heard this before, maybe from our administration, and been made to feel like we have to change the way we do things in our classroom tomorrow. However, this is not Kasey’s approach to adapting lessons in our classrooms. 

At the end of each chapter in Shake Up Learning, Kasey very clearly lays out action steps to help us make effective change. This provides teachers with a plan of attack for accomplishing the transformation and designing lessons that our students need. 

I remember attending a technology conference in the first few years of teaching and the lead speaker said that 80% of our students are in school training for a job that doesn’t exist yet. Now I have no idea if that percentage is currently accurate, but I can’t imagine in a decade this has decreased. Either way, this idea has stuck with me and encouraged me to create the kind of lessons Kasey describes in her book.

The second part of this book goes into detail about the attributes of a dynamic lesson. She digs into her four C’s that help design a dynamic lesson or unit. The four C’s are creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Kasey recently talked through an even deeper dive into these components on her podcast. This is what prompted me to pick up the book again. 

If this sounds like something you might want to dive into for yourself I would suggest joining her next book study and taking a look at the online, self-paced course she offers. A few times a year she offers this collaborative group online book study. You can learn more here for the most recent details

Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli

My first introduction to Rick Wormeli was through a book study with Meet Me In the Middle. A small group of colleagues met once a week to discuss and share how we were able to incorporate the ideas and examples provided in this book. A few years later I had the opportunity to take an online graduate course where the focus was Wormeli’s other book Fair Isn’t Always Equal. This was my first introduction to the idea of standards-based grading. 

Because the course was online I didn’t feel I could properly process and implement the information being presented in this book. The idea of eliminating grades, or at least moving towards that direction in some way, is pretty mind-blowing for educators. But not just for teachers, students and parents are not familiar with the idea of standards-based grades either. 

This mindset shift makes so much sense for what education should be all about. For most of us we’ve been so indoctrinated with the traditional methods of school it’s difficult to imagine how this could actually work. Especially when considering the time commitment. This had been my struggle when I was first wrestling with this new way of teaching. 

After hearing Rick Wormeli break it all down in a two-day seminar, I now have a very different outlook. Turning your classroom into a standards-based model is not something you do overnight, or a long weekend even. Wormeli advised me to take 5 things I want to change for the second half of this year and work to make those happen. Then at the start of next school year, I can structure my courses with a few more. Along the way making adjustments and transitions as they arise. Overall the process could take 2-3 years to make a complete transition. 

The latest edition of Fair Isn’t Always Equal has new updates which is why I’ve started from the beginning and will work my way all the way through. My hope is, to begin with, a plan for transition and establish some key concepts that I’m able to implement in my courses for the next school year. You can watch my journey as I chronicle all my moves on Instagram

Deepening Comprehension with Action Strategies by Jeffery Wilhelm

In the last few years, I’ve been hearing a lot more boys openly sharing their disdain for all things reading books. Well, let’s be honest, reading in general. There have been a few girls who chime in, but I sense the girls are really just being more polite and keep it to themselves. I’m always trying to be conscious of adding movement to lessons and working to provide more choices to allow students more ownership of their learning.  

What I have noticed is that those things are not enough. Kids are more responsive to lessons that allow them to experience their learning. For example, before we started reading A Long Walk to Water we had students carry buckets of rocks that weighed the same as a bucket of water. We had them carry the buckets down the hall and up a set of stairs. Then when we read an article about a girl who carried jerry cans of water every day for miles the kids could relate on some level with this concept. 

The action strategies that Jeffery Wilhelm shares in his book are a great way to give kids more of an experience with their learning. I have used them in the past, but somewhere along the way, they fell out of my plan book and off my radar. 

Wilhelm now has an updated edition of this book (the title listed is the new one) that also includes a DVD of lessons on video. With our Shakespeare unit quickly approaching I’m on the lookout for more physical learning opportunities that will get my students out of their seats. 

With all the information provided for us online, we sometimes forget that our cabinets and bookshelves may already have the solutions we seek. What teaching gems could you literally dust off and add back into your teaching repertoire? Share your favorite professional books in the comments or share a photo of the book on Instagram and tag me. I can’t wait to see what you are reading again.

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Turn “I hate reading” into “I love reading”

Turn “I hate reading” into “I love reading”

Reading might be one of my favorite past times, but it’s not often a favorite activity for my students. At the start of every school year I hear at least one, but usually, many more than that, say, “I hate to read.” They like to really reiterate their point with follow up comments such as, “books are boring” or “reading makes me fall asleep.” For years I used to respond by informing them that they just hadn’t read their favorite book yet. This can sway a few kids, especially when a classmate does suddenly find a favorite, but ultimately my toughest haters of reading have been transformed by the authors of books. There is something special about hearing the behind-the-scenes secrets to a story.

Meeting author Suzanne Collins at the Hunger Games premiere party in Los Angles was a true fan girl moment for me. Walking into the massive tent felt exactly as I imagined walking into a Capitol party might feel like. Celebrities mingling about and here I was in awe of the decor and dedication to making it feel as if I’d stepped right into the book. An English teacher’s dream come true courtesy of my brother who was working for Lionsgate at the time. 

March 2012, one of my very first Instagram posts with my iPhone 4S.

The night introduced me to several of the actors and actresses where I learned their thoughts on playing particular characters. The young tribute actors felt like my people and we had great conversations about reading the books. About halfway through the night, we found ourselves standing in the center of a crowd, all trying to get a selfie with Taylor Lautner. That’s when I spotted her. Suzanne Collins was being ushered through the crowd. If I was going to meet her this was my only chance. I pushed past the few people standing between us and introduced myself. I remember telling her, “I’m a middle school teacher from Ohio and my students have loved reading the Hunger Games trilogy. Could I get a photo?” 

She was so gracious and let me take a quick photo before rushing off out of the party. To me, she was the greatest celebrity in the room. Meeting an author to thank them for sharing their talent and expressing the impact they have made on readers is part of what I love about my job. It’s not a requirement of course, but it’s a super cool part of being a teacher of readers. 

The experience of meeting or hearing an author talk about their work feels a lot like being at a concert. Hearing music played live adds new connection and emotion to the songs. Meeting author in person has always had the same effect for me. 

In 2010 I had the privilege of attending the NCTE conference where I was introduced to several of my favorite authors. Some of the authors I met were debuting their first novels at the time and they quickly became beloved authors for me. I’m reminded of my conversation with author Sarah Weeks. She shared her book So.Be.It. and her heart for people with disabilities. Her book was the first one I read from the pile of books collected from the conference. 

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After meeting all the authors that first day of the conference I wanted to devour every book they had ever written. I can remember specifically walking up to Laurie Halse Anderson and using every ounce of my energy to not lose it right there in front of her. Another major fan girl moment for me. I had read her book Speak several years before and it’s definitely in my top ten reads. Meeting her in person made me want to read every book, short story, and poem she had ever written. Laurie sat at her table signing my book and casually talking with me about life. After that conversation I was convinced if we lived near each other we would be best friends. At least the invention of social media now lets me pretend to be friends with my favorite authors. 

All of these encounters have convinced me that everyone needs to meet their favorite author or any author. As an English teacher, these have been some of my favorite experiences. Events, where I have been able to meet an author, help me feel a stronger connection to a favorite story or introduces me to their new novels. Sometimes it’s a new introduction altogether. 

Sharing opportunities to meet authors is even more fun when given the chance to introduce students. Authors can feel like untouchable celebrities to the voracious reader. But the truth is like any celebrity they are human. In fact, they often do their own marketing which includes book signings or meet and greets. If meeting an author can make a reading impact on me it’s possible to have the same effect on students. 

Follow a Local Library

Libraries often invite authors to talk about their books or share a writing workshop. I’ve made it a habit of checking nearby library calendars for author events. Some even have an email subscription that will send events to your inbox. Another great way to stay on top of these events would be following them on Facebook or Instagram. 

My first student group to meet an author was an hour’s drive to a major city south of us. My colleagues thought I was crazy, but my students had just finished Brandon Mull’s latest book Fablehaven. Several of them mentioned never loving to read until reading that book. When I learned that Brandon would be at a nearby library I began making plans to take students. The hour drive seemed completely worth the time if students could meet the author who helped them identify themselves as readers. 

We drove down on a school bus immediately after school let out with about 12 kids, one parent and myself. Brandon talked about his experience with writing Fablehaven, answering all the questions from kids who asked where he got such funny ideas and interesting characters. He signed copies of books and other swag for the kids. Some of my kids had never owned their own book, let alone a signed copy. After this experience, many of the kids who went ended up finishing the seven-book series. 

Book Stores

Another great place to meet authors, especially local authors, would be your local bookstore. Our small town doesn’t have a bookstore so we have to keep in touch with stores from nearby cities, but like libraries, they usually have website calendars, social media, and email lists. 

My favorite local bookstore, Main St. Books, often brings authors to share and sign books. One April they had invited my co-teacher’s favorite Ohio YA author, Mindy McGinnis. My co-teacher raved about her novels and often shared them with our classes. At the time I had not read any of her books but of course, I was up for an evening out to go hear her share about her latest book, Heroine

Mindy talked about how she collects ideas for stories and some of her process for writing those stories. Many in the audience had specific questions about her books and they all made me want to rush out to read anything she’d written. I bought two of her books that night! 

We struck up a conversation about teaching, Mindy is a former school librarian and exchanged emails. That night was the start of a very long conversation about how I could bring her in to meet my students. Almost a full year later we are finally making that a reality. 

Grant Opportunities

Thanks to a grant through the Buckeye Book Fair that helps teachers and librarians bring Ohio authors to their schools we are able to host Mindy for a full day. In anticipation of her visit, our English department has planned a special giveaway each month.  

Thanks to my fully funded Donors Choose project my students now have copies of Not a Drop to Drink, which we will read as a whole class, and five copies of her other novels for our monthly reading assignment. If you’ve never tried Donors Choose I highly recommend creating a project. Use this link to get started and possibly snag a boost to your project. They are always working to find donors that want to help with different projects. You never know what supplies or events might get funded. Did you know you can now ask for funding to attend professional development or field trips? 

If you are looking for a way to engage students with reading or help them make connections to the stories you read in class talking to authors in real life is a great place to start. Sharing student quotes or projects with authors through Twitter is another great way to connect. Some authors are willing to video conference with classes as well. Bringing the story to life by learning how it was written and the background about its inception can turn kids on to books. 

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6 Test prep ideas to use in your classroom

6 Test prep ideas to use in your classroom

State testing season is officially upon us. A time of year that every teacher would prefer to be eliminated from the calendar, but the reality is that it’s part of our job. I’m going to tell you what I tell my students: this is not a defining moment. Sure, these tests are used for defining us as teachers and they are used for defining our students, but we are not the total sum calculated in that score.

Standardized testing season can be stressful for students and teachers. Use these 6 ideas to help ease that test prep stress in every classroom.

Does that give us permission to blow off the test? No, because the reality is that this state test is not going to miraculously disappear. We aren’t going to wake up one morning and hear that the governor has declared all state testing canceled. As much as we all would love for this to be the scenario!

So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Did you know that I sat on the Ohio AIR content advisory committee?

If I couldn’t make the test go away then I needed a way to understand it better. Once Ohio ditched the PARCC they started new teacher advisory committees to piece together the AIR test. Apparently, this is always the process of curating a standardized test.

A small committee of about 20 -25 teachers who have at least five years of teaching experience in that grade level work to decide on content. Teachers are chosen from a variety of districts around the state to represent the different demographic areas as well. All of the teachers chosen must apply for the committee.

The job of the committee is to ensure that test questions are aligned with grade level standards. Each question is presented as an assessment for a specific standard and if we feel the question doesn’t do that it can be rejected. There would have to be what’s called a “fatal flaw” within the question for that to happen. Most of the time a simple revision can fix a question.

Being an active participant and hearing this process helped me better understand assessments. It didn’t sway my opinion of how our state chooses to use these tests in determining teacher effectiveness, although not much would change my opinion on that. When it comes to state testing it’s too simplistic to say you agree or disagree with it. There is a need for evaluating student knowledge based on state standards and until there is a better way I will do what I can to help my students be better test takers.

Many students will have to sit for exams in order to further their careers so I like to look at test prep as if it’s a reading genre. Ultimately, every test is a reading test. Determine what they want you to show that you know and find the right answer. In my slide presentation on preparing for the Ohio AIR test, I go into specific detail about how students can use this to their advantage. You can also read more about lesson ideas I use for test prep here.

There are also environmental aspects to consider when preparing for a state test that can help students have a greater advantage. Here are six ideas for preparing your classroom for testing season.

1. Scent: Did you know that cinnamon helps to awaken the brain? In a brain science professional development we learned this little tidbit of information.  The presenter did mention that it can’t be fake cinnamon like a plug-in or spray or even melted wax. Her suggestion was to sprinkle a little on a few plates and place those around the room.

2. Look: Most states mandate that any posters come off the wall if they could help the students. Plan to do this a week in advance so students aren’t throw off by the “new” look of your room on the day of testing. This could also make for a good review. Ask students to recall where anchor charts hung and what was on them.

3. Feel: Suggest to your students that they wear their brightest color clothing! Bright colors evoke positive feelings and stimulate the brain. It’s also better to wear clothing that it’s too comfortable. Sweat pants and sweatshirts can make a person feel too relaxed and sleepy. I like to talk about the idea of dressing for the job you want, only I change it to dressing for the score you want.

4. Taste: Peppermint is a flavor that helps to awaken the brain and senses. We buy or PTO donates bags of the peppermint hard candies for students to suck on while testing. Cinnamon gum can also have the same effect. What you eat can also make a difference. Don’t forget to tell your students the importance of a high protein breakfast the morning of each test. High protein – low sugar. Protein allows energy that is prolonged, while sugar will give them a jolt then crash before testing is even over!

5. Sound: Silence can be deafening for some kids. They need opportunities to practice prolonged silence. Extended silent reading is great practice. Even a computer task without headphones. These are especially important if the norm in your classroom is background music and headphones during independent work time.

6. Emotion: One final tip that could help your students make a personal and emotional connection to a very impersonal assessment. Test dedications: it’s the same concept as athletes dedicating their performance or the dedication page at the start of every novel. Ask students to think about someone who has helped or encouraged their education. Have them write a small paragraph about why they deserve this honor then paste their picture next to it. Have students hang their dedication where they can see it while testing.

If you’d like a free downloadable test dedication printable simply add your email below. You’ll get access to this and many other free printables in our growing resource library.



Do you have other ways to help students prepare or feel ready for the test? Share your best test-taking strategies in the comments!

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Hack Instructional Design

Hack Instructional Design

When I first began my career as a teacher I’d landed a job in Kannapolis, North Carolina. It was the absolute best place to start a career because this was a middle school that truly represented a staff that lived like family and educated students as if they were their own children.

Apart of that staff was a lively couple, Michael and Elizabeth Fisher. They were a two person teaching team that impressed me greatly. I marveled at the innovative ideas and teaching methods they used and shared with staff.

Since then we have all moved on in our careers and where we call home, but Mike and Liz, as I know them, have continued their journey as innovative educators. Read on as they share their latest adventure as teacher authors.

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We are so excited to be able to share our newest book, Hacking Instructional Design: 33 Extraordinary Ways to Create a Contemporary Curriculum.

This book has been a labor of love as we have taken more than two decades of experiences working with children and teachers, along with an array of experience from experts in the field of curriculum and instructional design and created a one-stop shop of ideas to create a contemporary curriculum!

What we’ve written is meant to help teachers with the students that they currently have in the classrooms as well as all the future students coming through their doors.

As part of the Hack Learning Series of books, this installment follows the same formulaic structure. We identify a problem, a solution, and then step-by-step instructions for improving. Each problem and solution scenario is called a “Hack” and over the course of writing the book, specific themes emerged. We grouped those hacks together into categories we call “Hacktions.”

Each Hacktion represents a facet of a teacher’s instructional design decisions. Foundational hacktions represent what teachers will do BEFORE a student comes into the room. This is where they familiarize themselves with standards, instructional ideas to meet the standards, and goal / target setting for students.

Instructional Hacktions, along with Engagement and Contemporary Hacktions, address design ideas that will impact students when they’re in the room. This includes a multitude of ideas around inquiry design, lesson experiences, creativity and motivation, and new opportunities for engaging contemporary students with what matters to them.

Finally, we address Blueprint Hacktions. The blueprints are where the rubber meets the road; where the teacher and the teacher’s colleagues make agreed-upon decisions for how the curriculum will be documented.

Ultimately, we want teachers to create a thriving curriculum ecosystem where all the interconnected parts are harmonious. This includes giving students voices and choices about the ways in which they learn best.

As a thank you to Carly and the readers of Teach.Mom.Repeat., we’d love to share a BONUS BOOK that includes an additional chapter, a study guide, and templates / organizing tools for your own instructional design endeavors!

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS BONUS MATERIALS

Cheers to an awesome 2019!

Michael and Elizabeth Fisher


Michael Fisher is an author, instructional coach, and educational consultant specializing in the intersection between instructional technology and curriculum design. He works with districts in the United States and Canada to help teachers and schools maximize available technology, software, and web-based resources while attending to curriculum design, instructional practices, and assessments. This is his second book in the Hack Learning Series, following 2016’s Hacking the Common Core. You can contact him via Twitter @fisher1000 or by visiting his website at www.digigogy.com.

Elizabeth Fisher is an instructional coach and educational consultant specializing in literacy, English Language Arts, and curriculum design. She works with teachers and administrators across Western New York to help them improve their professional practices. You can contact her via Twitter @elizabethfisher.

Together, Michael and Elizabeth have been educating students and teachers for more than two decades. This is their first full-length book together, following co-created journal articles and professional development around parent involvement, brain-based learning, and differentiated instruction. They have two children, Lily and Charlotte, members of both Generations Z and Alpha, respectively, who keep them on their toes.

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How to Build Solid Student Relationships in the Holiday Season

How to Build Solid Student Relationships in the Holiday Season

Google has revolutionized the way I teach and I have never looked back. With technology like Google, you are able to save time and transform your teaching practices. But why get Google certified? To learn and teach. Being Google certified will help you have the skills to effectively use Google for Education in the classroom. Maybe you already know the basics, but taking the time to gain certification will certainly teach you a few tricks that you hadn’t discovered.

Being Google certified will also allow you to help colleagues more effectively use G Suites for Education. Most people resist change, but if you can show them how much Google simplifies the communication and collaboration process they might be willing to try something new.

If you’re like me and love all things Google becoming certified is the next step. And if you’re like me and follow along with the Google Teacher Tribe podcast you already know that Kasey Bell has Google Certification courses available. Participating in a course guarantees that you will gain the skills needed to pass the exam and give you a chance to practice.

If you’re new to this idea let me breakdown each of the certifications and what you can gain from joining a course then taking the exams.

Certification levels

Level 1 Certification: For the teacher who wants to successfully integrate G Suites for Education into their teaching practices. This level covers the basics of each Google tool that can be used in the classroom.  

Level 2 Certification: For the teacher who feels comfortable using G Suites in their classroom but would like to take it to a more advanced level. A deeper dive into each of the tools.  

Google Certified Trainer: For the teacher who enjoys teaching other teachers. This certification is open to any educator who would like to share what they have learned at the first two levels with other educators.

Google Certified Innovator: For the teacher who is developing their own innovative ways to use Google in the classroom.

Why become certified?

There is more to Google certification than the badge that can be added in your email signature and social media accounts. Certification is about your own education as an educator. If anyone understands the concept of life-long learning it’s teachers. One of the reasons we continue to teach is because we enjoy being learners ourselves. In the 21st century, technology has transformed the way we present information to students and how they demonstrate their learning to us. Google is not exclusive to the classroom. Many companies use G Suites for business purposes as well. Allowing students to gain these skills before entering the workplace gives them an advantage.

Many teachers are already using G Suites in their classrooms without becoming officially certified. So why spend the time and money to work towards certification?

1. Proficiency: Have you ever thought while planning your unit, there has to be a way for me to do this more efficiently? I know I have! Then you find yourself spending countless hours looking for the right answer. Taking the certification courses and becoming certified means you will have that answer right away. In fact, it will most likely give you new and improved ideas for delivering your content.

2. Effectiveness: Turning a handout into a Google Doc is not what G Suites is all about. The technology is not meant to replace, it’s meant to enhance. What you will learn through the course of gaining certification will help you to better know the possibilities of each tool and how to effectively use them in the classroom.

3. Networking: Join a large community of other certified educators who can provide you with support and help when you need it. Connecting with other educators is the best way to grow your creativity as a teacher.

 

Getting certified

Now that you’ve decided to go ahead with the process of becoming Google certified there are a few things that you may want to consider. First, consider taking one of Kasey’s courses to help you prepare for the exam. Sure, it’s possible to gather the knowledge you need from the Google training materials available. However, it will take a lot of reading and searching for answers all on your own without any help.

Taking Kasy’s course will give you exactly what you need to practice for the exam. She provides videos and documents, plus you can always ask her or the Facebook group specific questions if you’re having trouble.

Choosing a course such as these allows you to work at your own pace and on your own time schedule. Joining a scheduled Boot Camp that might be offered by your district will also give you the information you need to pass each exam. However, there is a lot to know and possibly learn. These face-to-face courses are only offered on a specific day and time so they may move too quickly for some people.

Before you make a decision about how to gain your certification take a look at Kasey’s post with frequently asked questions for more information. You will also find several resources she provides and details about each of the Google Certification courses she offers twice a year — May and November.

When you have successfully passed your exam and gained your certification be sure to brag in the comments.

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Hold a Speech Contest with Scrooge

Hold a Speech Contest with Scrooge

A Christmas Carol is arguably the most widely known Dickens story of all time. Made into movie after made-for-TV movie, this story has been told over and over again. Each year the 7th-grade language arts teachers dust off our textbooks and read this play with students. We all know that as much as we may love a story it can become boring eventually. Here is an idea to breathe some life back into teaching A Christmas Carol plus teach students the art of persuasion.

A Christmas Carol is a popular story for middle school teachers to use during the holiday season. Here is an idea for using the story of Ebenezer Scrooge to teach students generosity along with speech skills and persuasion. Blend fiction with nonfiction in this simple Christmas time lesson plan.

Before they changed our standards and took away persuasive writing it was a staple writing assignment essay. I enjoyed teaching students about the techniques of persuasion and we usually did this in the form of a letter to parents. We would write parents a letter persuading them to buy a particular item for Christmas. Some of you may have just cringed at that last sentence.

YES, with more experience as a classroom teacher I started to see how this assignment was troublesome. Many students came from homes where Christmas was not celebrated or presents were not part of the budget or the requested gift was simply out of the question. So I needed to take a different approach. That’s when I created the Scrooge Speech Contest.

The new assignment was to convince Scrooge that the charity of your choice should receive his donation this Christmas season. Click To Tweet

We always read A Christmas Carol at the start of December. Sometimes the play version from our textbook or the Scope Magazine version. In the years I had advanced students we read the actual text. In the years I was scheduled for co-taught classes we read a shorter, illustrated version. Either way, every version shares the story of how Scrooge changes from a tight-fisted miser to a man who celebrated Christmas with all his heart. At the end of the story, we learn that he did give money to the men who asked for donations and he became a benefactor to the Cratchit family. This was the perfect opportunity to change our persuasion writing assignment.

The new assignment was to convince Scrooge that the charity of your choice should receive his donation this Christmas season. A chance to teach writing and speaking skills all in one.

The Assignment

Students started by choosing a charity. The first year I let this be a free for all. That was a huge mistake! Students had a terrible time researching and we ended up with 20 speeches about the Humane Society. I must have had a lot of animal lovers that year. The problem was students weren’t branching out to see what charities were even possible they just went with what they knew.

The next year I created a list. This list has grown since spending time with a number of charities through my World Race mission trip. The list also became an opportunity for me to share the work I did overseas. The list, which is a Google Doc of links to the charity websites, helped for the most part. I still had students choosing what they knew. This is not necessarily a problem, however, on the day of speeches, it’s hard for the class to sit through the same speech over and over again. That’s when I initiated a draft day.

Students were given access to the list of charity links and they had 10 minutes to investigate their options. This also gave me the chance to strike up a conversation with an individual student and help them choose a charity that might fit with their passions. I could steer the animal lovers to other charities like the World Wild Life Fund or Puppies Behind Bars. Once students found a charity they connected with they would type their name in the shared spreadsheet. I kept the spreadsheet for all 3 of my classes so that no student had the same. This made the speech day more bearable for me. There are enough charities in the world so why not learn about as many as possible?

Research and Writing

The next few days students learned a few basic research skills for navigating a website. Check off any digital literacy standards you have for that day. They would keep track of their research in these Digital Notecards I designed. Once they had a full picture of the charity they began working on their presentation. Most organizations these days have very detailed websites. Students can usually find all they need for the presentation on the one website.

It’s important to take this opportunity to teach students the proper etiquette for giving a speech with a slide presentation. Middle schoolers tend to write everything they want to say on the slides and then proceed to read those slides to the audience. As we all know this is poor form. I would model for them what a presentation should look like by presenting my favorite charity Remember Nhu. Sharing this charity allowed me to present personal testimony from working with this organization and the impact it made on my own life. When students see this they tend to want a personal connection to the charity they picked. That is a beautiful moment! One year a student shared how Wyld Life changed things for them and gave them hope for a better future.

Presentation Day

One-by-one students present their charity to the class. Sharing an overview of the charity, who are impacted by the organization, a major project currently taking place, and how Scrooge’s contribution will make a difference. If the charity has a short introduction video that students can use for the overview section I do allow them to share the video. I also make stipulations that they can only include 1 video and the whole presentation cannot exceed 5 minutes. As students present, I find it easiest to assess their speech in a pre-made Google Form. This allows me to give them a point value for each section and provide feedback. It also makes entering final scores from the spreadsheet super quick.

Take it up a notch

Here are a few ideas I’ve used to really take this project to the next level. Since my students are blogging in class they have turned their presentation into a blog post. Another option would be a class Google Site where students could upload their slide presentations to be shared publicly.

Another fun way to take this up a notch is to collect actual funds for the speech winner to donate to their charity. My second year implementing this project we raised $100 and we were able to donate that money in the student’s name. It certainly makes giving a very real experience. Especially if a student has never had the means to give. I set a mason jar on my desk to collect change and posted to my Facebook friends that we were doing this with a way for them to help. There are a number of ways that you could go about doing this now and possibly generate a large enough donation to allow several students to make donations in their name. It can be hard to choose just one. Another option, rather than having to choose, could be to draw from a hat or randomizer.

If you host a Scrooge Speech contest this Christmas season I’d love to hear how it goes and see any links if you decide to share. Have any other ideas for how to make this project awesome? Share them in the comments.

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