Showing posts with label English exercises. Show all posts
Showing posts with label English exercises. Show all posts

Feb 27, 2009

rubrics for evaluating delivery

My students are learning aspects of effective public speaking. Today, they gave group mini-presentations on the "rules of happiness." (Context: we've been reading philosophically-minded literature, talking about existentialism and eudaimonia and free will.)

How it works: each student speaks for about 45-60 seconds on their preferred rule. As they talk, two others in the audience, rubrics in hand, watch and listen, writing comments on vocal quality / fluency and nonverbal communication. (For example, if Jolene is speaking, Charlie's listening for vocal quality, and Danielle's looking at nonverbal communication.)

After all the speeches are done, students receive immediate feedback, and then reflect on the process in their journals. I collect the rubrics, and use them to shape further instruction.

I've included the rubrics for those interested in trying something similar. My students report that the categories (and descriptors) gave them a better sense of what to evaluate, allowing them more specific and honest feedback.

Nonverbal communication rubric.

Vocal quality / fluency rubric.

Let me know if you have any trouble opening the files.

Oct 22, 2008

a general debate case rubric


When students are critiquing others' cases, I find it absolutely critical to provide a basic framework, so their comments are as specific as possible. (When it comes to feedback, there's nothing worse than "good job.")

Thus, I present to you a debate case critique rubric, which is applicable to any sort of debate case in general, although it's expressly created for Public Forum debate.

Download it for yourself here.

May 13, 2008

a twenty-minute poetic analysis

Yeah, I'm practicing. I make my students do this all the time, so this should be easy, right?

The poem: "Shampoo & Sponge Bath" by J.W. Marshall.

The challenge: write a coherent commentary on a poem I've never before seen, covering at least three specific features, all within 20 minutes.

The results:
The poem presents a vivid and shocking picture of the frailty of human existence. There is nothing so humbling, the speaker of the poem obliquely suggests, as a shampoo and sponge bath: being taken into someone else's care, someone else who may only partly understand the "mess" that the speaker has become due to the ravages of age or extended illness.

The poet employs several literary devices to amplify the reader's sense of the speaker's humility and humiliation, and to strike up empathy; the reader is meant to not only visualize, but feel the speaker's plight.

One device, polysyndeton, in the fourth stanza, illuminates the comprehensive and cumulative nature of the speaker's hapless and somewhat helpless situation: the water from the bath covers his "gown and skin and sheets." (The lack of punctuation and the additional conjunction suggests the totality of the spill--the reader rushes through the line, much like the water "slopped" all over.) The staff assisting the speaker are careless and hurried, so that the speaker's humiliation is magnified by a form of psychic isolation.

The immersion becomes almost like a baptism; the speaker dies "and happily that time" when his head is placed in a metal basin for washing. This form of hyperbolic symbolism suggests that the immersion, much like the spiritual awakening of baptism, opens the speaker's eyes to his place in the cosmos: feeble, small, and sopping wet.

The poet further describes the smallness by recourse to simile--"Like a tuber on the pillow"--though this is offered only provisionally, since it is contrasted immediately with an alternative, "or the shadow of a spade." On the literal level, the speaker is physically shrunken by extended bed-rest. Figuratively, the speaker has been dug up from life; the reference to the spade might also ominously presage the approach of death and burial. (The hyperbolic death at the end of the first part lends to that particular reading.)

So, not only in the first part but in the poem's entirety, the theme of human frailty in the face of death, the existential crisis upon the discovery, through sight and sensation, that humans inhabit a shriveling body, tiny compared to the "terrifyingly large sky," is made clear and powerful. The reader, influenced by the surprising confluence of banal detail and philosophical observation, cannot go away unmoved.
There are a few reaches, but overall, passable. I use semicolons only when in a hermeneutic mood, I've noticed.

Apr 21, 2008

journaling solves everything: an exercise in point-of-view

Thought of this over the weekend, and tried it in my Creative Writing class with decent success. It's good for intermediate to advanced students who are already somewhat in control of narrative--for example, if they're already using flashbacks or multiple narrators, this is for them.

Journaling Solves Everything

Step One: The Diary Begins.

Have students start by writing "Dear Diary," and going from there in a typical first-person perspective.
Dear Diary,
Today I met with Mr. Beens, my guidance counselor, who suggested I lower my expectations. Harvard won't take a three-sport athlete with a sub-3.0 GPA, he said. I told him that I know they're selective, but that my dad just bought a cyclotron for the physics lab, and that oughtta boost my admin index by at least a few points. When he asked what a cyclotron was, I said, kidding. My dad installs mufflers at Midas. Mr. Beens got pretty mad.

I saw Jenna in the hall today, making out with that loser Kenny. They were hanging all over each other outside Ms. Carlstad's class. Ever since I dumped her she's been going from guy to guy like a...
Have this continue for about 5-7 minutes. Then say "Stop." We're ready for the next step.

Step Two: The Real World Intrudes.

Wherever they are in their piece, students halt, either with a period or a long dash, signifying an interruption. They skip a line and write their name (or a pronoun), and follow it with "stopped writing." Their next task: explain why, and build to a conflict.
Chris stopped writing. His mom was perched at the door, holding the phone. "It's for you," she said. "Police."

Chris's face blanched except for a red patch on his forehead, which throbbed crimson. "I don't know--"

"Take it," his mom snapped. She threw him the phone and stormed downstairs.

Chris's hand shook as he cradled the phone, hearing the mechanical voice on the other end. Mr. Mondale, this is Detective Hall. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions about something that happened at school. You know what I'm talking about, right?

Chris nodded stupidly, then realized he was on the phone, and stammered, "Y-yeah."

He's in a coma, said the detective's disembodied voice. Your friend John is down here at the station, in Booking. You wanna tell me what happened?...
This should take about 10 minutes. Then we're ready for the last step.

Step Three: The Diary Solves It

In this last step, the student links what's in the diary entry to the conflict, finding a potential (or actual) solution.
Chris's mind wheeled. He realized it wasn't John at all who pushed Tyler off the bleachers in the chaos of gym class. It was Kenny--it had to have been Kenny. Hadn't Tyler been dating her just a week ago? Hadn't Kenny told Tyler to f--- off and find someone else? Chris's hazy memory sharpened as the scene replayed...
This exercise has several benefits:

1. It gets students writing in multiple points-of-view, and able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
2. It immediately increases the sophistication of the narrative, and opens up a new option for intermediate writers.
3. It's fun.
4. It leads to new story ideas based on their own lives, since you start them off by writing about themselves.
5. Since they end up writing about themselves in the third person, it increases self-reflection and and is almost therapeutic.

I think I'll try it again with another group of seniors, and see if it turns out as well.

Jan 30, 2007

thinking about choices: a quick exercise

Normally, I don't let students think about literary counterfactuals. Macbeth can't ignore the witches. Meursault can't stash the pistol. Arthur Dimmesdale can't confess.

My juniors, though, are reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which forces the reader to consider the abundance of choices that are significant only in retrospect--so although counterfactuals still make for bad lit crit, they're a little less obnoxious. Here's what I had my students do to prime their thinking about the text.
First, list ten successive choices you made between waking and coming to class today.
Then, write an alternate history of your day, given that one of those choices was made differently.
Some of my students immediately complained, "I can't think of more than four choices." I'd respond, "Oh, really? What did you have for breakfast? Eggs? No? Well, what if you had--and you picked the unlucky salmonella egg? Where would you be now?"

In fact, when you try to list even ten choices, you start to realize just how many decisions you take for granted, never appreciating their significance because "nothing" happened as a result.

Nov 17, 2006

quick and easy thesis writing exercise

Your students have trouble writing a thesis, don't they? (Yes, they do.)

Let's assume they're already outlining their paper--they have a thesis (of whatever quality) and a few supporting points.

Here's a quick way to assess where they're at.



Materials: One 3x5 card per student.

Have students write their thesis on the blank side of the card, and write their three (or two or four or...) subpoints (summarized, obviously, in a sentence) on the other side.

Then, they trade cards with a neighbor, letting them look only at the subpoints. The neighbor should attempt to guess the thesis without flipping the card over, and then talk to their partner about the differences when they finally read the "real" thesis. This helps the writer...

1. Clarify the meaning of their thesis for themselves by explaining it to their partner.
2. See if their subpoints really link to their thesis.

You can then collect the 3x5 cards in one easy stack, and try it for yourself, reading their subpoints and seeing if their thesis matches up.

It works. Try it.

Mar 22, 2006

English teaching: exercises in narrative development

Been working on starting and shaping stories in my sophomore classes, and thought I'd share a couple brief lessons that have gone over well. Your comments are appreciated.

Building a Story From the Character Up
Hand each student a half-sheet of blank paper (computer paper, copy paper, etc.). Students draw and describe the personality traits of a character, any character. The ground rules:
1. Even if based on a real person or previously-imagined fictive agonist, the character has to be uniquely named. No lawsuits.

2. Drawing takes a backseat to describing, and physical attributes to foibles and faults.

3. Non-human characters are okay if personified or anthropomorphized.
Circulate amongst the artistes, offering suggestions and clarifying directions. (Typical: "What's a good name for a social butterfly?" "What's a word for someone who's too trusting?") After about ten minutes, it's on to step two.

Students then pair up and discuss their characters. Afterward, each will write her own story based on a putative interaction between the two, no matter how bizarre or unlikely (Mr. Toaster-head bumps into Rock Studly at a Star Trek convention). Again, the ground rules:
1. The characters must act in accordance with their prescribed traits.

2. The characters must act in accordance with their prescribed traits.

3. The characters must act in accordance with their prescribed traits. It's all about psychological realism and verisimilitude.
If time allows, let students discuss the creative process--if starting with pre-fab characters was a help or a hindrance to their writing.

The Plot Twist

Students begin a story with a generic starter. Some examples:
The sun burned through early morning fog on a cool November morning...

_______ clutched her cell phone as she ran through the park...

The door slammed...
After about 5-7 minutes, when they've had time to initially develop the narrative, introduce the first plot twist sentence, which they are to incorporate literally and directly into the flow: "In that moment, everything changed."

After another 5-7 minutes, introduce the second (and final) twist sentence, "And then the unthinkable happened." Students then take another 5-7 minutes to wrap up the story.

Let students share stories with each other, and then with the whole class. Don't forget to debrief about the creative process, and to point out the diverse (and crazy and random) ways different authors address the same basic constraints.

In my experience, most students will notice the ideas that paradoxically arise out of limitations.