Poem A Day:

Today we continue our discussions about themes and how authors deliver those themes. This is a song the kids like, and the theme is pretty straight forward and easy to pinpoint- its a good way to get back into the lesson. (trigger alert- this song deals with the issue of suicide, but ends on a VERY hopeful note).


Today’s objective: Students will analyze strategies storytellers use to develop themes so they can deliver a theme of their choice through use of narrative techniques in an original short story.

Students will continue to practice identifying themes and articulating those themes. I want them to discuss themes with their peers, so that they can practice developing and defending their ideas.

Because I want them to practice developing their own language for discussing these ideas, I will be showing some visual storytelling today.

First we will ease into it, using a wonderfully inspiring and adorable short movie called “Scared is Scared” . Students will work in small groups to decide what the theme is and write a short paragraph together describing it and telling me how they know that’s the theme using specific examples from the film.

Active Engagement:

Next, we will watch a wordless film- “Piper.” Students will work together again to figure out what the theme is and they will be asked to think about HOW the creators of the film delivered that theme- without words, no less! They will share their ideas out with the class, and I record all thoughts on this Google doc. 


To recap- we will discuss how themes are ideas and lessons and messages and feelings that we can all relate to- they are shared universal human experiences, and they speak to who we are and what our nature is- what is humanity? stories and their themes help us to answer that question.

All three of these pieces of media explored the theme of perseverance through challenging times, or through less than anticipated life changes. 

Students will finish their theme baseline essays- due Monday (A day)/Tuesday (B day).



Poem A Day:

This is a great narrative with some figurative language. The theme is clear and easy for them to pick up on, so it makes for a great introduction to today’s lesson about themes in narratives.


Today we began by reviewing the last class’s presentations. I asked: What were the themes of the stories? How did you know?

The objective today is to explore: how do authors develop themes?

First, we listened to this great Moth Radio Hour podcast- it is a very short story about a Kit Kat bar and life lessons learned.

Afterward, I asked students: What is the theme of the story? Would it have been clear without his explicit explanation? 

Active Engagement:

Students worked in small groups to discuss the story and the narrative techniques the writer used to deliver the theme.

Students shared out and I collected their ideas on another Google Doc that I posted on Google Classroom.

Next we listened to another story from Moth Radio Hour about a young girl’s experience with her first contact lenses.

Students worked independently to identify the theme of the story and the narrative techniques used to develop said theme- they recorded their ideas in their notebooks.


For Homework, I asked students to pick their favorite Poem a day so far, and write an essay that summarizes the poem, identifies the theme, and explains how the theme is developed throughout the poem. Due next class. This was for another baseline data collection.


Poem A Day:

Lyrics are here. It’s a great song, and we found metaphors and allusions (nice review). We tried to figure out the theme.


Today’s objective: writers read looking for ways others writers develop themes. 

I modeled this behavior by showing students how I annotated the first page of my copy of Scarlet Ibis. I showed them the imagery I noticed, the foreshadowing, and the repetition of colors or phrasing.

Then, as a class, students shared out what they noticed, and I collected their responses on a Google doc. I posted this to Google Classroom for students to reference.

Together we attempted to

-identify a theme or themes

and find

-symbolism, imagery and foreshadowing

Active Engagement:

Students worked together in small groups to read a new piece of Flash Fiction. Each group read a different story. Then students were asked to work in their groups to  identify narrative techniques in that story, attempt to figure out a/some theme(s), and create a slideshow to present their story to the class. The directions are here.

I used the following stories:

“Here’s another Ending” by Diane Williams

“A Moment in the Sun” by William Brohaugh

“The Nicest Kid in the Universe” by Chuck Rosenthal

“What Happened During the Ice Storm” by Jim Heynen

“Blackberries” by Ellen Hunnicutt

“Snow” by Julia Alvarez


THIS WAS A TWO DAY LESSON. STUDENTS FINISHED THEIR PRESENTATIONS IN THE NEXT CLASS AND PRESENTED TOWARD THE END. My classes have a wide range of student numbers and abilities- it is a challenge to keep them all on the same pace.


Poem A Day:

I love to use this song when I am teaching symbolism. It strikes a perfect balance between being kind of hard for the kids to grasp, but also obvious enough for them to get there on their own in small groups with some discussion. It’s great to hear what they think the sunglasses represent!


Today’s objective: Students will identify and discuss symbols that authors use to develop themes.

I wanted to reinforce our discussion about short stories from last week, today so we reviewed our notes from last week.

I told them that today we would focus on how writers use symbols in stories to develop bigger ideas and add depth to short works. I asked students to define symbolism in small groups and to come up with a few examples.

Active Engagement:

Next, we listened to our Poem-a-day again. And groups were asked to identify the symbols in the song and decide what they stood for or meant.

Finally, we read “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst and searched for symbols he used. I used a document camera to show students on the smart board how I like to annotate looking for symbolism as we read as a whole group- students watched me and were also asked to annotate their own documents for symbolism. They used red pens (lol- my own little symbolic joke #Englishteachersarenerds). I annotated for the first few pages and then stopped so they could try on their own.


We discussed symbols I found and symbols they found. I told them we would use this as our mentor text and that we would see it again a few more times in the future. We have plenty of time to unpack and understand it.


Poem A Day:


Here we discussed conflict in the song- in some classes it was organic, as our last lesson was about conflict in storytelling 🙂 In other classes, I made sure to bring it up to reactivate all that goodness. We also discussed the symbolism in the song- there are many important objects that represent bigger ideas- the shoes, the air bubble, the laces, the parachute, etc. This song always leads to a lot of great discussion- even among my reluctant learners- this year many of them knew the song already and therefore had more insight to offer on the themes and ideas than those who were hearing it for the first time.


Today I introduced the project that students are going to begin working on. I like to give the students outlines of their objectives and goals for each unit at the beginning, so they know what they are working toward. This way, their work is more purposeful. 

Next, today’s objective is to define the short story genre. One takeaway is that short stories are narratives that convey or revolve around a theme. Writers of short stories use narrative techniques to deliver their theme, entertain the reader, or make them think.

As a group we discussed the article, and then brainstormed literary devices that authors use to impact readers. This was a way of checking their prior knowledge, and getting on the same page, speaking the same academic language- very useful at the beginning of the year. I used the list my classes came up with to create this study guide for a quiz on literary devices. I wanted students to know that we would be using all of these terms all year, and that I was not going to bother defining them over and over- they needed to commit them to memory. I reinforced this by using the poems a day throughout the unit to show examples of each literary device- we ended up having a real interesting time with paradoxes which I will detail later.


Active Engagement:

Today I am collecting baseline data for narrative writing. I want to see what kind of skills they have now- before they take my class. This will help me assess their growth. They answered this simple prompt in class today.



I reminded students that their original stories were due next class and we wrapped it up.



Poem A Day:

This is a classic (if you were born in 1985 lol). It’s all about conflict- and so is today’s lesson.


Today we discussed how humanity and the complexity of our situation (keeping it light for the first “lesson” lesson. We watched this great TED talk (language alert) about Humans and I asked students, “What is the speaker saying about humanity?” This led to a great discussion!!

I wrapped up the discussion by telling students that this course would focus on humans- since most literature and media is written by humans, for humans, about humans. So, studying literature is studying humanity. Good times. Real world connections abound.

Active Engagement:

Students were asked in the last class to bring a notebook in today for all of their English class work. I supplied composition notebooks for any students who could not afford one or couldn’t bring one for any reason.

After discussing my expectations for responses to literature, we practiced our first response to literature- the focus of this response is “Conflict”.

Students read “The Appalachian Trail” by Bruce Eason and responded to these prompts.


Students discussed their ideas about the central conflicts and it was interesting to see how differently students interpreted the conflicts and the characters in the story and their relationship. We had a whole discussion about reader-response theory which was cool and unexpected.

Welcome To Ms. Minto’s Classroom

Welcome to my classroom blog where I intend to post my daily lessons for my freshman classes this school year 2017-18.

Today is the first day of school, and in my class, it is all about establishing a positive and fun rapport, and setting up classroom routines.

I started today with the same ice breaker I use every year: I stare awkwardly at my students as I take attendance for the first time. The purpose is three-fold. One: To remember 120 names in a day is challenging. This helps. Two: It makes the students feel really weird and uncomfortable and unsure of me- I look at it as a catharsis. Now that they have felt all these ways, there is no need to fear these emotions in our future together. Finally: it is hilarious, and makes me laugh and makes them laugh. It works every time.

Next, I showed this fun slideshow, to allay the concerns of the students; they always want to know the silly, boring details instead of all the “good stuff.” So, I get all that other stuff out of the way early. I breeze through this quickly, and I almost NEVER mention school rules on my first day. Why? Because inevitably, ALL of their other teachers mention NOTHING but rules on the first day- so I assume the kids GET IT at this point.

Next, students introduce themselves briefly, and I launch into the first Poem a Day and the instructions for said activity. 

Each day’s activities will be broken into four sections, and, so will each of my blogs: Poem a Day, Mini-lesson, Active Engagement, and Closure. I like to open with the poem/song, then have a short mini lesson, where I teach a new skill, model a new skill, demonstrate a new skill, or we read and discuss new content. Active Engagement is most of the class, where students practice whatever the lesson is, and work with their peers. Finally is Closure, where I check for understanding and wrap up the learning objectives.

Poem A Day:

I chose this to be my first Poem a Day because it captures the melancholy we all feel on the first day of school, as the sweet summer, and all of its hopes and dreams and promises, draw to a close. Also there is some great figurative language that I want to review with these students who have just spent the last three months forgetting what a metaphor is.


Students are introduced to the class  and to me with this adorable slideshow.

Active Engagement:

Students Introduce themselves. Then participate in an activity called “Write Something.” Students can write fiction, or nonfiction, about themselves, or their summer, or anything at all. I tell them I am looking for a 250-500 word sample of their writing skills. It helps me to get to know them, and know what we are working with. I learn which skills need reinforcement, which can be skipped right off, and which may need introductions.


I answer any questions the students may have, and we dismiss.

Day one: In the books.