Setting Classroom Expectations and Teambuilding

First Day = Half Day Introductions!

balloon 2

I was in an interesting position this year as I was transitioned from English I to English III: I needed a creative icebreaker even though most students knew me. We started class with a “How well do you know Mrs. K?” quiz. It was actually fun to see what students thought about me and why they thought these things. Basically, it was a multiple choice quiz with questions like, “Where does Mrs. K come from?” “What kind of dog does she have?” “What does her husband do for a living?”

Next, we did a fun balloon activity with our expectations. See, I have one rule. RESPECT. And we discuss that in our room, it is given until otherwise re-evaluated because if we all felt like it had to be earned no one would get anywhere.
The free plan and PPT can be found here:
Here is the outline:
1. Students complete a half-sheet question sheet with four questions: A. What strengths do you bring to this course? B. What weaknesses do you bring to this course? C. What do you need your classmates to do to help you be successful? D. What do you need your teachers to do to help you be successful? Students were told NOT to put their names on the page and to answer as honestly as possible.
2. Answer sheets were folder up and tucked into a balloon. We then blew up the balloons. As a vital step, all students needed the exact same color or balloons to avoid identifying the author of the page. I used dark blue because it also meant if the students wrote in marker, the color was dark enough to mask it so no one could recognize handwriting or writing utensils.
3. Students spent two minutes NOT letting the balloons touch the floor. In hindsight this should have been less because it felt like forever watching them bang balloons around.
4. Every student grabs a balloon. Students divided into two teams, popped their balloons, and tracked the answers to the questions.
5. As a class, we reviewed strengths and weaknesses. Just as I hoped, some student weaknesses were doubled as strengths. Worked like a charm to promote teambuilding and asking classmates for help during activities.
6. As a class, we reviewed expectations of the teachers and I was able to 100% agree to their expectations of me.
7. As a class, we reviewed expectations of peers. These linked perfectly with the strengths and weaknesses as well as the expectations of the teacher.
This became then became Kirk’s Classroom Constitution. Now that we have written one and they saw the effort that went into it, maybe they will have a better understanding of the real deal when we come to it.

Ideas? Questions? Comments? Please! This is my first time doing this, and I’m do my very best to prepare my students for the EOC, PARCC, and the future.


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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Back to the EOC Swing of Things

Well, it has been a hard month. I returned to work at the start of April, but keeping up with all of the changes and the blog fell to the wayside. As this is the EOC Swing, I wanted to get back to helping out others and posting as much as possible.
We get out for summer on May 22, and I will diligently work on uploading everything I have missed over the gap and adapting to the change in family arrangements and the loss of my brother.
For right now, I’m going to post a few files to help cover the gap.

What’s the best review pattern?
Well, I don’t have an answer to the best. I choose to use a very structured class schedule:
1. First, our bell ringer still follows the Caught Ya method, but I modify the sentences to meet specific needs of the students. Goal, 7-10 minutes. (Because this is changed based on the previous day’s instruction, there is no specific file to upload for you.)
2. Confused Vocab: This file includes five days of warm-up/bell ringer activities for use in English classrooms (10 minutes a day for five days). The plan comes with an outline, student handouts, a notes grid, and answer keys. You can find this file at
3. Foreign Words and Phrases: I have created a variety of supplies for this, but I am not yet ready to post them. I have videos for each of the terms with short review tasks to use at the start of the year, and then I have a set with five words a day in the fill-in-the-blank sets where students must use the correct word and justify their answers by identifying context clues which helped to identify the correct term. I will get this posted as soon as possible.
4. Skills Lesson and Strand Reviews – I basically review a specific term going SPI by SPI for key terms and vocab. I have posted the first one, Communication. Use this basic PPT and student handout to reteach Tennessee State English I Communication Standards with your students. This is a great way to put all of the information in the same spot right before the test date! Activity Description: T reviews the strand with definitions and examples on the PPT. Students track information on the included graphic organizers.
FREE Activity Posted:
5. EOC Item Sampler Think Aloud – I break the test into sections and review every question. These tests are available at

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any ideas, comments, or suggestions.EOC Swing Communication

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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GRRRR! Grammar!

Growing up on a farm in the south one might think I had picked up the southern drawl of you’uns and y’alls. In reality, we girls were trained in the manner of Eliza Doolittle and, combined with my own personal disgust of tobacco spitting old ladies at church, people often assume I’m a transplanted northerner until the southern temper spikes its head. Anyway the point is I heard grammar correctly and had it drilled into my head so much that I honestly accidentally found myself correcting even my own mother. I’m not sure I even understood why certain elements were correct until Dr. Overholt drilled it into my head in the glorious days of Maryville College. I say all of that to say society owes it to our future to speak in a manner which is grammatically correct. In the urban setting, agreement and comma usage is the hardest thing to teach. It isn’t all the fault of the student because it is all they hear so them it doesn’t have the nails on the chalkboard effect.
This rant is brought to you by our testing data. We use Standards-Based Grading, so we have 5-6 questions per objective and track mastery in the manner the state does on the EOC. We tested parts of speech, agreement, and comma usage. Apparently, I suck at teaching these elements this year. But with every problem MUST come a solution.
For years, I have successfully used a mini-grammar lesson combined with the Caught ‘Ya system, but this year we were asked to use the textbook for instruction. In testing, these are the worst grammar results I have seen in at least five years. The problem with the textbook method is that if I know I’m in the comma chapter and the problem is a comma, I can probably get it right. But given a sentence with unknown problems, students tend to miss it. It is like looking at specific skills independently does not allow students to see how grammatical structures play together and function as one in sentences. And throw in the problems of text-message-ese and spoken dialect… So I’m looking for a new idea. Suggestions?
The grammar text book (which I have NEVER been a fan of) does not seem to be sticking long-term with our students, but the Caught ‘Ya model is going well. We are going to continue with CY, but we are going to add back the grammar instruction of a program called Daily Grammar Practice from DGP Publishing. In this model, students use the same sentence or passage and make different corrections each day. A good colleague (and excellent teacher) used this model in 8th grade and felt it was successful so we are going to try a few weeks with the 8th grade book to see about getting the money for the 9th grade books next year. I’m not opposed to purchasing it on my own if it works. In the midst of the start up, I created a few files which you are welcome to try if you are interested.

1. DGP Publishing Web Site:
2. FREE DGP Student Notes Handouts: I gave these out to students and them modeled going through each step of the sentence and consulting the page. My plan is to have them use this page on the test at first, but I will use the scaled noted system where next Monday students only have one page on which to write notes. Each week I will decrease the amount of space on which to write notes for use on the test until ultimately there are not notes.
3. FREE DGP Student Notes Flashcards: Whatever it takes, right? I know some of the students will not use these, but for those who are interested they will be helpful.
Monday –
Tuesday –
Wednesday –

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Day 1: How do I read a poem?

Students really struggle with making meaning of poetry. With a lack of prior knowledge and limited analytical and critical thinking skills, poetry is a difficult concept. In keeping with the scaffolding of the gradual release model, I decided to break down the process and add one step with each chunk of the lesson.
1. Preview the text of the poem by looking at the title, picture, caption, or other text features. This is actually a school-wide strategy, but I really believe it has been helpful in reading prose, so why not give it a try?
2. Read the poem for literal language. Students will read the poem and then paraphrase every few lines to track the surface level meaning of the poem. Have students complete SOAPS on the text of the poem.
3. Read the poem for figurative meaning. Students reread the poem and look for possible figurative meaning including symbols, tone, and mood.
4. Annotate the poem while looking specifically for the figurative language. Try to list the example, provide the name of the specific device, and jot down the possible meaning of the vocabulary used.
5. Annotate the poem with a different color and look specifically at the sound devices. Try to list the example, provide the name of the specific device, and jot down the way it affects the poem.
6. Notice the form of the poem. What is it?
7. Review the title and your notes. What is likely to be the theme of the poem? How do you know?

Between each step, I will model and teach key vocabulary to help increase understanding. Also, by building on the steps of the lesson the students will be practicing each step regularly to help internalize the process.

So how did the first day go? With the first day, we were able to get through the preview of the text and both literal and figurative meanings of selected poems. This was done in more of a discussion manner with a few very general stems to get the students thinking. Without having to look for specific devices, students were able to get to a deeper meaning and justify their thoughts even if it was different from what I was looking for.

Next, we took notes over figurative language including simile, metaphor, paradox, apostrophe, personification, hyperbole, pun, and idiom. Not only did the students take notes of the definitions, we looked specifically at examples of each and tried to verbalize the function of the device and the impact it had on meaning. Assessing this on the exit ticket shows that students can find meaning and back it with other parts of the poem if they know what the device is. However, if given a line and asked to identify the figurative language, they look for “like” and “as” to mark simile and the very obvious elements, but they do not recognize more complex examples or examples which are not in direct proximity. We will have time to work on this.

For tomorrow, I’m going to reteach figurative language in the context of the poem and then move into sound devices. Right now, I’m looking to model with “Rose in Concrete” which I had them complete individually. This will be great to go over the figurative language but I can also use it to model finding sound devices and tracking the effect they have on the text as well.

Ideas? Love to hear them.

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Poetry: Teaching the Figurative Language

poetry trading 1Our goal here is to move from knowing to recognizing and identifying to analyzing. So I guess I have my work cut out for me.

What’s first?

Chunking the material is going to be vital to success, but I also need to figure out a way for students to memorize the vocabulary for the unit. For that, I will use the Poetry Trading Cards. Next, I want to divide the unit into teaching figurative language one day, sound devices another, and form on another. This will give time to focus on specific skills and, ideally, I will be able to use the same poems to link each set of vocabulary skills in order to reteach while adding in the new steps.

Making the material accessible is another problem. In teaching story elements, I realized students could identify plot elements when reading short stories by Walter D. Myers and Sharon Flake, but the skills were almost non-existent in looking at classical literature. I’m anticipating the same challenges in poetry, so I’m going to do it like I have before and use some of the edited versions of Billboard hits.

Room display is going to be the poetry word wall I created. After the introduction, I can have the students create posters for each of the elements.

So… off to pick poems and put together a new unit! Ideas? Suggestions? I’m waiting.

1. Poetry Word Wall can be found at
2. Essential Vocabulary Trading Cards can be found at

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Twelve Angry Pigs

With so much success accessing prior knowledge of drama, I have decided we can effectively use one play to go over dramatic elements and then review plot a little. This sets us up to move into poetry, a section which typically takes a bit longer than one might expect, relatively quickly. I’m jumping ahead there though.

For 12 Angry Pigs, I started out by using the Common-Core story preview task I have talked about before. Hopefully, by the end of the semester, the students will be able to preview following my steps but without me guiding them. After previewing the text, I gave a short bio on the author, Wade Bradford, and we started reading. To pick roles, I had cards made for each pig. Students picked their role based on the pig they liked the best, and we then set the classroom up as a jury room with the desks in the center. The first time, students were instructed to just read. Since it is short, we were able to reread for questions and discussion. It was nice having the ability to take the time to do that because it allowed us to do more critical thinking and analysis of the text.

At the close of the section, I gave students a short cloze-style quiz. This mini-unit was more memorization that anything else, but the students did well on the quiz. We will revisit a few of these concepts in a few weeks when we prepared for the unit exam. All of our unit exams are cumulative, and the students will have a short play to read and interpret on their own for the real test of the knowledge.

And we will bring drama back around in the weeks following the EOC to look at Romeo and Juliet so I’m feeling pretty confident about this set of skills.

Now… to prepare for poetry.

1. Drama and Archetype with Twelve Angry Pigs can be found at
pigs 1

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Introduction to Drama

In my experience, students do well with most skills pertaining to drama. They recognize the visual form of a script and the importance of stage directions. For that reason, I use this as a moment for plot reteaching.
To make sure the students are familiar with elements of drama, I start with having students look at the prose and drama version of a text. We then use observation to compare the two literary forms. The students loved “Thank You M’am” (Hughes) so I rewrote it as a play. This allows reteaching of plot because they created plot maps and characterization of TYM and can pull from those experiences. Plus, it is relatively quick to read dramatically, so it fits in the same day as the Intro to Drama lesson.
My power points are generally set up to be able to skip information or go deeper when needed, and I have given images to help student visualize theaters and types of discourse. I admit it has become one of the lessons I enjoy much more than many others because the students really get into it.
With the new text, I had the students complete C-notes and we used that as a starting point. In all, pacing worked out perfectly. Our Exit Tickets showed students were able to at least define all major elements pertaining to drama with only minor confusion between soliloquy and monologue. Here’s the trick to that: Soliloquy = Solo on stage. Monologue = dialogue for the mono.
For content, we will read two short plays: Bloody Mary and 12 Angry Pigs. (Where is Romeo and Juliet? We actually save that one for the two weeks of school after the EOC. This works because we are in an area with much gang activity, and we use the Jedi mind trick of intentional ink colorations to get students interested. Works EVERY time.) Under the PARCC Model Content, our extended reading is To Kill a Mockingbird. 12 Angry Pigs goes well thematically, but Bloody Mary is just fun.

To be more user-friendly, I have decided to list these items individually and with a bundle. For now, here is the introduction. drama 1
1. Introduction to Drama:

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Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Well, we did it. I’m not sure if it will stick, but I just saw the best results ever with teaching Inductive and Deductive Reasoning. How? Aren’t you just dying to know!
First, I started out with presenting the students with two arguments from the same conversation. I asked students to tell me the difference between the two, and they easily recognized one as “from personal experience” and the other as “a scientific principle”. Nice start.
Next, I presented a situation in which someone was robbed and the police detective came in to gather evidence. This was presented in a paragraph narrative, and then we broke down the argument in terms of the conclusion and the evidence leading to the conclusion. One amazing student connected to the previous lesson and pointed out the text structure as chronological.
From here, I stopped the discussion and transitioned into student notes on inductive and deductive reasoning. We recapped each reasoning with a fill-in-the-blank paragraph summary of the logic before looking at examples.
Here comes the newbie of the instruction. At a training over the summer, a wonderful lady (I’m so bad with names) who works for the state said, “Lots of teachers say they struggle with inductive and deductive and can’t teach it. But I think they miss the key step pf having students create the arguments first.” So that’s what we did. Students created the arguments and we then evaluated an argument. They knew what type it was, but they had to justify why it was that type and identify the conclusions and premises. After doing this with both inductive and deductive, I modeled looking at an argument, identifying the conclusion and the premises, and then determining whether it was inductive or deductive.

inductive 1

1. Teaching Bundle with PPT and Exit Ticket with EOC-Swag can be found at
2. Room Display Word Wall is available at
3. Trading Card Logic Strand Review Game is located at

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