Category Archives: Uncategorized

Peace out, Britain. It’s over. (or The Declaration of Independence for teenagers)

It was inevitable that the time from the start of the semester to the Declaration of Independence would fly by and be here before I had the students feeling the same excitement for the drama in our country at the time. So I had to think outside of the box to get the buy in and support from the students perspective. Also, I felt an incredible pressure because I’m forced to bounce through literally the beginnings to 1800 in only 4 1/2 short weeks… which simply does NOT leave time for all of the highlights of American Literature. And – as much as I cannot believe I’m saying it – the literature really is way better with the historical hindsight!

I started class by asking students to use their breakdown strategies to predict, based on the title, what the text might be about. It is amazing that they are so used to the opinion-based questioning from before Common Core that they really struggled to figure out what it was. Eventually, with guided questioning, we got it.
Because we read Henry and Franklin, students were able to generalize why we left. I used the Shoulder Partner A/Partner B technique to review the history and their arguments before playing a video to set the tone. Every step should have a student task, so as students watched the video I had them track reasons it was too late to apologize. (You can find the video free on youtube at They LOVED this video!

Each lesson comes with some degree of student notes. For this one, notes fell in two parts.
a. We completed a short rhetoric review to build on previous lessons and review rhetorical appeals before the module assessment. Basically, I broke it down by revealing text and asking students to label them by technical name. This worked because students were expected to identify and evaluate them in the text (adding to sentence breakdown strategy).
b. We did a mini-lesson on unwrapping diction in which students took notes on denotation and connotation to think about the specific word choice in seminal documents and evaluate their use in terms of the rhetoric and effectiveness. Students are often able to recognize the power of words, and a few of them asked about the word choice in Henry’s speech so this was a natural progression. I found it more about teaching the academic vocabulary of diction, denotation, and connotation than about teaching them the skill itself.

To start the reading, I reviewed the process of close reading by having students explain it to me. Once again, I knew I needed to model and I wanted to break down the process into manageable chunks for student mastery and repetition of the process on this text and throughout the remainder of the course.

Reviewing “Break Down Complex Sentences”
Modeling Steps:
1. Read the sentences while annotating what stands out.
2. Identify the who/what of the sentence.
3. Identify the action in the sentence.
4. Paraphrase what is happening. If this sentences was easy, lump it with the next sentence.

Next, we evaluated the rhetorical appeals. This was the new learning of this section of text, so I needed to go back and model how to identify the appeals and how to think through their effectiveness. I decided in my own reading I asked myself how people who agree and people who do not agree would take the comment, then I move into whether or not it might be effective at changing anyone’s mind. So I followed those steps with the students.

Building in “Evaluating Appeals”
Steps in the Model:
1. Does this feel like ethic/credibility? Logic? Heart strings? What words do you notice to guide the appeal?
2. How would people who agree feel about this comment?
3. How would people who disagree feel about this comment?
4. Would this statement change someone’s mind? Why?

Alas, we made it through the text and students seemed to get rhetoric a little more. I think we still need to look at rhetoric throughout the semester, but for now I’m (we’re) glad to be moving into the closure of Module 1 so we can look at some texts which fall under “Literature” over “Informational” to support engagement.

On to planning the end of the module synthesis essay. Go me. Go us. Go Common Core.

P.S. I feel like I spend a tremendous amount of time trying to get the perfect product and revising the parts I would change before uploading it, and that means I am backlogged in drafts I have not published. I’ve decided to go on and publish the blogs even without the files uploaded… at least temporarily. I plan to use Fall Break to upload the file and then I will edit to include the links.

Transitioning to the American Revolution: Patrick Henry and Ben Franklin

As we move toward the close of the module, we find ourselves looking to the birth of the new nation. For this, we needed to set the stage of the historical settings, so we worked to make it fit.

1. Speech(es) to the (Virginia) Convention and a look at rhetoric.
To start this lesson, students were given a short historical hindsight lesson (notes) with a focus on rhetorical appeal. We reviewed them quickly and I realized students were able to define the appeals without fail but the recognition of them in text was something we would work on throughout the day. Additionally, I wanted them to start evaluating the rhetoric from both perspectives – those who would agree and those who would disagree – and make a call as to whether or not the rhetoric was effective overall.

I modeled this process with the first two sentences from each text.

For this task, the class was divided in to teams. One team focused on Henry’s Speech to the Convention while the other focused on Franklin’s Speech to the Virginia Convention. This worked well to make sure students were an expert on the first text. The neat thing was how the teams were decided…

First, we took a private notecard vote on whether to fight for independence or to try to just get along. Those who voted to get along were assigned to read Henry. Those who wanted to fight were assigned to Franklin.

Once the texts were assigned, the students were given their reading guide. (Find a free copy of the reading guide at

Students progressed through the reading guide at their own pace and then moved to partner with a person on the opposite text. In the end, student discussion was guided by an author comparison section of the handout right before completion of the writing prompt on comparing author ideas. This wasn’t intended to be a formal essay, but more of a constructed response as we are working hard on developing paragraphs with cited evidence from the text.

Alas, let me know your thoughts so I can work to improve this lesson before the next implementation. It felt a little slighted because there was so much I wanted to get into with the text (and limiting the teacher-talk on such an amazing series of texts was really challenging!).

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Here’s the news flash – students just don’t care for Puritan Plain Style.

For today’s lesson, I started out with reading the text several times and thinking about what it is that makes his sermon effective. Once again, I wanted to reiterate the elements of breaking down complex sentences, but then I wanted to bring in the rhetoric used in the lesson. I decided to model it after my thinking and have students look at the complex sentences before thinking about the rhetoric which makes the sentence matter.

For modeling, my questions became:
1. What is he saying?
2. How is he saying it?
3. Is he effective in getting his message across?
4. What is it that makes it effective?

For skills, I wanted to look at rhetorical devices, but the first step was looking quickly at ethos, logos, and pathos. I was quite fortunate in that the majority of my students were able to look at a blank triangle and put in the terms. I asked to students to tell me what they remembered, and I didn’t have to go into the detailed lessons reteaching the basic appeals.

At this point, I followed the suggestion of the text and looked at specific rhetorical elements of metaphor, simile, imagery, appeal to fear, and antithesis.

Here, I moved directly through the reading of the text and had students complete the reading guide.

At the end of the lesson, I wanted students to be able to identify and evaluate rhetorical elements in a speech in terms of what the speaker is saying, what he means, and how he wants it to affect the audience. In the end, I’m not sure students were able to get antithesis and implied metaphor.

Fortunately, these skills can be revisited as we move on through the next few readings so the students will be ready for the module assessment in two weeks.

Also, I will post the reading guide and a link asap. It will probably be free and just the reading guide because I’m not ready to post the PPT as I feel it needs some revision. (Link:

Suggestions? Let me know.

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English III Hybrid TN EOC/CCSS Course: What is it to be American?

cc workshop 1

Ah. The hybrid year. Last year we piloted all that is Common Core while being assess by the TN EOC. Alas, this year we implement Common Core while being assessed by both the TN EOC (with a few supposedly dropped SPIs) and PARCC. Add in that the PARCC assessments are on a yearlong plan while our course is a semester and you have a world of differentiation and 80 hour work weeks. But me… I honestly did not get into teaching to get rich. I got into teaching so I could make a difference and do my part to make the world a better place. So I’ll take it: 80 hour work weeks, Common Core, EOCs, TRIPOD, TVAAS, and whatever else you throw at me. But I’m going to help my students get it even if there is no 15-16 year old of the inner city volunteering to read these texts.

So what’s the spin for buy in? Well, the essential question becomes “What does it mean to be an American?” Now, this isn’t so far fetched – we are American and they call out their freedoms on a regular basis. So I tied in a personal stake: I know a true American.

1. After the boring syllabus review and all that jazz, we watched a video to spark a conversation. (Find this video at Students felt a connection because I’m not the only teacher at the school with a loved one who died in a very public service-related situation, and they saw those families. Then, we invited them to bring in the picture of anyone they knew who was willing to defend what it meant to be American. From there, a living bulletin board was created.

2. We built in a Common Core Workshop using Prothero’s “Introduction” from his text “The American Bible.” We actually used only an excerpt, but the idea worked very well to introduce students to the power of words. We spent a week with this text, thoroughly modeling the process of close reading, text-dependent questions, and the dreaded writing task. In all, the point was modeling the process, and I gave a tremendous amount of written feedback to each student for every single question. Amazingly the students thought they would get credit if they just wrote something in the answer slots. Amazing. Apparently some teachers do that so often the students expect it as the norm and were genuinely surprised by their grades and the feedback. They could not believe I read, scored, and responded to every single question for every single student. Once I realized they were not used to teachers carefully reading and grading, I intentionally went overboard in providing feedback. I plan to do this intensively for a bit here – as long as I can practically keep it up – until I have them well trained. I can understand having some completion grades, but these guys make it seem as if that was all they ever had for “practice” category work. Unreal.

You can find the PPT and student documents at

Interestingly, I found where someone has posted the Introduction for free on scribed. You may access that file at

And with that, it was time to begin the textbook selections.

Welcome to Module 1: Early America to 1800.

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English III: Early American Origin Myths

Native myths 1

Our class text is Prentice Hall’s Literature: The American Experience edition. After having outdated texts for a rather long time, it is exciting to have texts which are actually designed with Common Core in mind. Unfortunately, there is just not enough time in the semester to read and discuss every text, so we have to sort of pick and choose the highlights of each period which make it into the 18 weeks.

{Now, if you are interested in the outline, you can find the outline of the course modules in my TPT store at}

Alas, the first experience our students had with the text was Native American Origin Myths. We spent a total of two days on this task, spending about 75 minutes a day. We are just coming out of an entire week on an informational text in which we painfully modeled every detail of close reading, answering text-dependent questions with evidence, and completion of a writing task, so I wanted to do something to make the lesson as engaging as possible.

Myths covered:
1. On Turtle’s Back
2. When Grizzlies Walked Upright
3. Navajo Origin Myth
4. Cherokee Origin of Fire (not in the textbook but included because this is used for modeling)

What do I want students to know and be able to do at the end of the lesson?
1. Explain the point of an origin myth.
2. Retell the origin myth.
3. Know what archetype is, identify it in text, and compare it across multiple texts.
4. Know what theme is, identify it in text, and compare it across multiple texts.

How will we get there?
We started out the lesson by reviewing common skills of archetypes, theme, and traits of origin myths. Fortunately I built the PPT in a way that if a student could tell me what it was I didn’t have to go in detail about it, but when they couldn’t remember archetypes I had that built in as well. Overplanning for anticipated difficulties is ALWAYS a good practice because it is better to have a plan for if something does not work than to allow instruction to fall apart because the students just didn’t have the knowledge you thought they should have coming into the lesson.
Anyway, I knew having the students all read every myth was going to be dreadful and boring, and there was no way to make sure that fit in the pacing. So I modified and divided the class in three groups to study an origin myth, draft it as a play, perform it, and discuss archetypes and themes across multiple texts. Students also were assigned homework to complete the reading guide and text-dependent questions, and students were held accountable for this with the included reading quiz for the second day.
Before reading I did a short story preview and vocabulary preview activity in which students reviewed the material and told me what they thought about the selection. This is such a change from when the teacher used to tell the students all about what they were going to read before reading it. By doing a story preview in this manner, curiosity increased and I think buy in and participation was enhanced.
While day one was mostly skills and notes to intro the period, we did have time for every student to complete his/her first reading of the text. The way I assigned the texts was in looking at the student lexile with some thought into the text lexile and the layers of complexity of the story. I printed the reading guides and wrote the students’ names on the page. Students were not given any sign of who their group might be until the second day. To round out the first part of the lesson, I had a canned closer of using a post-it note to create a Facebook status or Tweet based on the assigned story. To review the skill itself, I had students use an index card to write a note to an absent classmate to explain the skills reviewed/learned for the day. As I type this it occurs to me I should do that every day and post the best summary as a sort of learning wall in the room. I’ll get on that Monday.
Back to the lesson… students were to complete the next reading of the text and answer the text-dependent questions on the reading guide. To help them remember and hold them accountable I sent a Remind101 message to all parents and students in the class.
On day two, I reviewed what we had done and where we were going to go next. I created a model of exactly what I expected them to do using a new myth. Considering skills I had them tell me what the elements of drama were and what goes on a script. I showed them the myth and my script. Then I used students to help me act out the skit for the class. This was great because it allowed me to show my expectations and it allowed us to discuss the role of performer and observer in the room. I gave the students time and materials, and then they produced a script and acted out the plays. After each presentation, I used questioning to get the students to think through the patterns, characters, and symbols which repeated throughout multiple texts. As an exit ticket, I had the students use constructed response and text evidence from each myth to argue a theme in all texts.

All in all, this was a fun lesson with the students. It was hard letting go of control but the bottom line was that this lesson was probably the first time since I can’t remember when that I didn’t feel I was the hardest working person in the room. I built in character and team building, behavior expectations, and tiered accountability. If I had it to do over again, I would have revised pacing to include a more thorough discussion of theme of each myth and had some sort of reporting out format for the groups to engage the audience in talking about archetypes and themes rather than having to lead it myself. But, judging by the output, the students are good with being able to give a theme. Finding the evidence is something I need to build in future lessons for additional modeling and practice.

From American Literature Module 1: Beginnings to 1800 as featured in my English III course. The text referenced is Prentice Hall’s Literature: American Experience Edition.
If you are interested, these documents can be found at

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Staying Organized!

Teacher binder 1

Alas, summer has come to an end and it is time to start the new semester!

When I created my first “To Do” list, I realized much of it was paperwork I needed to do and keep in an organized fashion. This included student rosters, data, IEPs/504s, and class documents such as planning, powerpoints, student worksheets, and assessments.

For that reason, I created a cute organization tool ( This includes editable pages for you to use to make the binder your own. Better yet, if you want it a customized cover, send me an email and I will do it and send it back to you with the cute font I have.

For my use, I have a 3-inch teacher binder and a 3-prong substitute folder I keep in the back pocket for ease of use.
If you are going to create your own teacher binder, consider including a few of these:

1. Cover Pages: Front and Back
2. Outline: Includes suggestions for each section of the binder.
3. School Information
4. Security and Emergency Divider (include directions based on school/district policy)
5. Class Roster Divider
6. Seating Chart Divider
7. Class Procedures Divider ~ Includes editable “User’s Guide” for my class in case you are interested in using this valuable management strategy.
8. Behavior Notes Divider
9. Accommodations Divider
10. Lesson Plans Divider ~ For this, I track my lesson plans and print out my PPTs. You can add the file names to the footer of the file so you will never forget where to find a document again!
11. Standards and Objectives Divider ~ Here I have both Common Core and Tennessee State SPIs in a checklist form.
12. Curriculum Map Divider
13. Student Data Divider
14. Parent Contact Divider
15. Meeting Notes Divider
16. Calendar Divider
17. Pacing Guide Divider
18. Gradebook Divider
19. Evaluations Divider
20. Professional Development Divider

Next, I have a substitute folder ready to use in the event of a last minute absence. To create one for yourself, include:
1. Substitute Folder Cover Page
2. School Information Divider
3. Security and Emergency Divider (include directions based on school/district policy)
4. Class Information/At-a-Glance Daily Schedule Divider
5. Class Roster Divider
6. Seating Chart Divider
7. Class Procedures Divider ~ Include your classroom rules and any important schoolwide rules and policies
8. Behavior Notes Divider
9. Lesson Plan Divider
10. Completed Assignments Divider

Another item I have created but not yet finalized it the outline of the modules for English III American Literature. I plan to post this WORK IN PROGRESS for free in my TPT store at I have not yet decided what I will do with my weekly lesson plans at this point because they are so details. I wish I could just post the file to my blog for the few readers I do have.
This new content is going to be a huge struggle for me as I am re-learning this material as I teach it. To be honest, I’m about a week ahead right now but I plan to spend my weekends really marking up the texts and making sure I am prepared to teach it. I promise to post my files and lesson plans as I get them together and implement them in the classroom. I say all of that to say I may do much of my updating over the weekend, but I promise to regularly post my implementation process through the semester.

It is a work in progress. Any ideas? I’m open to suggestions.

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New Year = New Subject!

This year, English I saw unprecedented gains in the EOC scores. In the inner city setting of my classroom, all but one student passed the test at proficient or advanced. Seeing this kind of data makes me feel like all of the work I have done for them and they have done individually throughout the year has been worth it. One nice thing Tennessee does for teachers is give a likely percent of proficiency. In looking at that, I had students with less than 25% chance of passing do so. Seeing the value added is a nice touch to make a teacher feel worthwhile.

After five years, the English I PLC is considered a success. So, alas, I’m reassigned to another grade level, English III, The American Experience.

The original purpose of this blog was to track and share implementation of CC in the classroom, and I did well at first. With the untimely, unexpected, and violent death of my brother, I dropped the ball at a vital part of EOC prep for my followers and readers. I do apologize for letting you down. The pace of life changed, and I had to focus on my family and my students more than my blog. However, I have decided to renew the page and complete the original mission throughout next year even though the audience will change.

Some things to look forward to in June:
~ Updates from a trip through the original colonies to gather images and information for implementation in the course
~ Updates in terms of planning the outline of instruction in the English III course

Some things to look forward to in July:
~ Updates to the blog in TAP and Instructional Delivery Ideas
~ Updates to the blog in Common Core Implementation in Tennessee

Some things to look forward to in August:
~ Curricular change to English III, The American Experience for semester one. As this is a semester class, the blog will cover first implementation and tweaks for the second round of the same course.

As always, thanks for following my educational journey. I promise to do it better this year.

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Taking a Break (Updated 4/21/2013)

For those of you who regularly read my posts, I am taking a break for a few days. I promise to continue the efforts of tracking CC in my classroom in the near future.

Headlines: – This is an incredibly well written article by the local paper. – This is the best story done by the most compassionate reporter I have ever met. Her name is Mary Scott, and Channel 10 gets my vote because of her.

So what happened? We met with the police. It started at 2:38 am when Rufus Watson drove by too closely. TJ responded by shooting his car three times, once in each star of the Tennessee State license plate.
Police came, and TJ shot another warning at the pavement. The bullet ricocheted to the undercarriage of the car.
At that point, TJ broke into the building. He cut his wrist pretty good apparently as he punched through the glass. While he was inside, the police established a perimeter. When the police called to him, he didn’t believe that it was them and he asked to talk to my friend DJ.
They got DJ on the phone, but TJ did not believe it was him. During the call, TJ saw an officer approach him using a tree for cover. He yelled to back the perimeter, but the officer did not. He said he was going to count from ten and give a warning shot into the tree. During his count down the officers were yelling about why they could not move him and how they feared the shot. TJ then shot into the tree as he said he would. At this point the phone call became hostile because TJ thought it was a trap.
He shot his phone and did not believe it was my friend officer on the phone. The police thought he shot himself because he was in the floor corner and they could not see him. They tried calling him, but obviously he could not answer. He exited the building with his gun at his head. They asked him not to and he was agitated, waving the gun around at various directions, and had erratic movement and motions. They didn’t want to let him escape the perimeter, and he got close to three officers.
He refused to drop his weapon. They were told shoot to remove the threat. The order was shoot to remove the threat. But Chief Crisp said that a Marine is too well trained. He took grazing to the trigger fingers and never lowered the gun. He was shot in the arm, upper and lower, and shoulder. He never lowered the gun or wavered at all. He was shot in the upper leg, I think ankle next, and still never wavered. It was the bleeding out that made him finally drop it, not the hits. He took one to the butt and one to the groin. The groin would have been the one to bleed most. In ten hits, he did not lower the gun. He fought to the death.
He didn’t believe it was DJ there to help him, and he didn’t ask for me. With the other flashbacks, he asked for me and I helped him come back. But he didn’t ask for me and the police were afraid one of us were the trigger. And we couldn’t make him come back.
Just to state it again, we know what the news reported. We know what the rumors said. We also know we verified on many occasions with Police Chief Tony Crisp of Maryville Police Dept that TJ never once shot at the police officers or any actual human being.

Memorial Video:
In remembrance of Lcpl. Theodore Jones IV, beloved son, brother, cousin, uncle, husband, father, and friend. TJ, as he was affectionately called, lost his battle with PTSD on 21 March 2013. Please help raises PTSD Awareness by sharing these videos.

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Logic Continued: The Rhetorical Situation

This week is for teaching the rhetorical situation including the rhetorical triangle and the rhetorical devices of parallelism, repetition, hyperbole, simile, analogy, and metaphor. We close the week with the next installment of Common Core Writing Assessments and immediately close out Writing and Communication the following week with Inductive and Deductive Logic and the unit exam.

First, students are going to take notes over the rhetorical triangle, create a foldable, and then sort text examples into categories of ethos, logos, and pathos. We did this using Obama’s address announcing the death of Osama bin Laden. This sounds incredibly depressing in reflection, but it worked well for our purposes. I will say that, to accommodate my need for test mode, we opened the article with previewing and annotating the text. Students then moved into looking at ethos, logos, and pathos within the text. For homework, students will review the test and create an overall summary of the message and the impact of the specific appeals on the message. Overall, I would say this was an effective lesson and served as a solid introduction since we are looking at the more specific rhetorical devices tomorrow.

Next, we looked specifically at rhetorical devices. For this steps I had the students take notes on the devices and provided an example of each device. To raise the level a bit, I required students to really think about the example and have them identify the part and explain its impact on message of the example. This was a challenge for them, but I think it helped. We ran out of time for the task (lovely drills and unexpected things a teacher has to do), but the next day I revised the PPT to include several examples and video clips of each device. We talked about the examples and discussed the video clips. Then, students were better prepared to explain the impact of the device on the message itself.

All in all, I would say the students are prepared for this strand… I think… Next week we will review text structures and inductive/deductive reasoning before taking our unit exam. Then I will be able to tell you for sure.

1. Introduction to Rhetoric – The entire bundle including the worksheets and PPT files is located at
2. Rhetorical Devices – I will get this loaded asap but I have tons to do to prepare for next week… including making revisions to the test.

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Writing Basics – Finally Finished!

Alas, we come to the close of yet another essay! I think all teachers of high school students grow tired of the writing process just in time to get a pile of papers to take home and read over the weekend.
When I was in school, we graded using the Harbrace. This time, I will be getting to use PARCC rubric just as soon as I can find a printer-friendly version. Anyway, so how did the essay end?
When I left off with my last post, we had just blown up an essay only to put it back together in looking at the order of sentences within a paragraph.
Our next step was to complete a peer review process. I have played around with a few different things, and I find students tend to think the essay is “fine” and make few corrections or suggestions. This time, I created a worksheet to guide the process in which the students had to find the key parts of each paragraph, rate them 1-5, and complete the frame of “One thing I really liked about this paragraph was…” and “One suggestion I have is…” I explained that N/A, IDK, and nothing were not options for the task, and I found the students actually did decent on this. The writing was so much better it was amazing!
Another idea to consider for the peer review is a group of 4-5 students. One student focuses on the thesis statement with a specific color ink, one on topic sentences, one on citations, one on whatever other element the student was expected to complete. They then sit in a group and literally pass the paper around with a timer to see that each essay has been reviewed by a group of peers, each with a very specific task.
When we finished the peer review yesterday, I told students it was time for a dose of accountability and reality. See, any teacher who has ever assigned an essay and tried to make parts of it homework knows there are kids who know the next day they cannot move forward without the previous part so they drag it out as long as possible. Not this time. I explained the dreaded BLUE BOOK we all saw in college. I had them raise hands to show me who was not going to have the revised draft completed by the start of class today so I knew how many to purchase. Then, I stuck to me guns. Students without the entire outline and essay were not allowed to get on the computer. Additionally, they had to sit separated to encourage focus and drive.
Then, I made a deal with our amazing librarian so that I could use a conference room attached to the library computer lab and set it up like a break room. Students who finished the final copy were admitted to take a break in the break room with some celebratory cupcakes and beverages. I also created and presented “SWAG” awards to the students to take home and show their parents. They were so excited it was worth all of the work.
In the end, I received all but three essays. Successful end to Writing Basics? I think so.

Files/Resources used during this lesson plan:
1. Expository Writing Pack is available at This bundle includes adaptable .doc and .ppt files for use in working through an Expository Common Core Writing Task for mood in plot, but you could adapt it to any text you desire.
2. Peer Revision – I will post this as soon as possible. I have a few deadlines at work and several essays to read.
3. SWAG Awards – Students Working to Achieve Greatness. I posted the certificate at

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