Tending to Your “Plant”

9th May 2017

I taught A Raisin in the Sun to my Junior English class to wrap up their The Shape of America year long theme with the central idea of this quarter being: The Pursuit of Happiness and the essential question being: what happens when our dreams are deferred?

I had never taught Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun before this quarter and I have to say that it has become my favorite play to teach. Here are my two reasons: 1) It actually has a happy ending, unlike most of the American Literature I taught this year (The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible) and 2) It lends itself to activities that get the students thinking about their goals, dreams, and their own pursuit of happiness.

One of the activities I did with the students was to create their own plant that represented their goals and dreams for a happy life. Just like Mama in the play, they were to “tend” to this plant throughout the duration of Act I and II of the play. When I introduced the assignment, we talked about how is human nature to dream about the future, and research shows that people who set goals for their future are far more successful than those who don’t.

I discussed with them how I felt goal setting is not about setting hard deadlines or writing your future in stone; instead, goal setting is about identifying what needs to be accomplished in your life in order to achieve your dreams, with the flexibility to adjust yourself along the way. Goals are lights at the end of a tunnel; sometimes the lights go out and reappear in a different direction, other times they lead you out and into a new life. No matter what, goals keep you facing forward, they keep your chin up in hard times, and ultimately, they move you forward into your life as an active participant.

With this in mind, my students created their plant. I had them bring in an empty tissue box filled with dry rice or beans, two sheets of tissue paper, and an empty paper-towel roll. I purchased enough pipe cleaners to make the tissue paper flowers and used card-stock that I have in my classroom already.

Here are the directions given to the students:

Task #1:Using card-stock or construction paper, cut out squares/rectangles to fit all four sides of your tissue box neatly; then, write on the top 4th of each square a corresponding goal for the criteria listed below:

  • Side 1:  Goal for your senior year
  • Side 2: Goal for the next five years
  • Side 3: Goal for your career/family
  • Side 4: Goal for your own pursuit of happiness (American Dream)

Task #2: Coming into class periodically throughout the reading of Act I and II of A Raisin in the Sun, you will draw a ‘chance’ card. That card will either be a benefit or a disadvantage to one of your goals. You will document your success/tragedy AND your response on the corresponding goal side of the tissue box. Highlight your response in a color of your choice.

Task #3: At the end of Raisin in the Sun, and after your goals have weathered their ‘storms,’ you are going to look for patterns in the way you responded to your different chance cards and create your own personal credo using the handout given to you. You will then construct your plant in your tissue box.

The paper towel will be your stem, your leaves will be made out of construction paper and will have your personal credos on them, and your flower is something appealing to you reminding you of the beauty of life, made out of tissue paper at the top.

Every few days my students would come into class have draw a ‘chance’ card that would affect their goals on their plant. They would have to “tend” to their plant and determine how they would respond when their “dreams were deferred.” My awesome PLC helped to create several ‘chance’ cards for the students to pick up. They included many topics that truly could happen to their goals in the future. Here are a same of a few:

Senior Year

You are having troubles at home as you begin to exert more independence. 

Next 5 years

You have begun training for the career you have always dreamed of, but as you start taking the courses you realize you are not interested in this career at all. 


You are laid off from your job and other people depend on your salary. 

Pursuit of Happiness

You travel to a different country and decide you want to move there. 

The students enjoyed seeing what life might throw at them as they picked these cards at random.

Once we were through Act III of the play, I read an excerpt from Robert Fulghum entitled “All I Really Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” After we read this piece, we discussed the different between a precept that has driven our behaviors from a small child and a personal credo that must drive how we want to live as an adult – something to keep in mind as we weather our storms.  I even gave them my personal credos as a sample (see below). The students put their credos on green leaves a taped them to the stem of their plant.

  1. Work first, play second, and play hard
  2. Early is on time and on time is late
  3. Be kind to everyone, even if they suck
  4. Be kind to yourself, you are enough
  5. Get yourself together
  6. A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life
  7. Less is more – simplify
  8. Surround yourself with people who get it
  9. Sometimes you must be quiet and just listen
  10. Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate
  11. Worrying does nothing, love does everything
  12. Drink the coffee, do the things
  13. Have impromptu dance parties in the living room
  14. Be better than yesterday

The end result of this plant project was amazing and the tie back to Mama taking her plant with her at the end of the play and my students taking their plants home was a great way to wrap up the school year…and my classroom was certainty in “full bloom” for Spring.

A Satire Notes Scavenger Hunt

27th March 2017

I hate lecturing the entire hour. I mean it, I HATE IT, and I bore myself; I can actually hear myself droning in the Peanut’s voice and as I see my student’s eyes glazing over; it is an out of body experience for sure. I just feel like I am not doing my job well.

Let me set this up, my AP Language and Composition students are going to be reading The Great Gatsby this last quarter and because we have yet to go over satire and satirical elements this year (since I was out on maternity leave), I have decided to attempt to have them read the novel as a satire…a blog post for another day.

So, to start off fourth quarter I needed to introduce them to 22 satirical elements, in a PowerPoint, the first week back, blah, blah, bleck. Instead, I decided to opt for them to do the work which benefits both parties, I think. I asked each table to split into pairs with each pair being assigned a satirical element. I have two classes so this covered all the elements well.

Here are the poster requirements:

TASK: With a partner at your table, please design a small poster that represents your assigned satirical element.

Your poster must include:

  1. Name of satirical element

  2. Definition of satirical element

  3. A visual that uses said element (satirical cartoon or political cartoon; drawn or printed from internet)

  4. A WWWH (my version of a rhetorical precis) statement that analyzes how the device used in the visual impacts that argument/goal of the visual

2nd Hour topics:

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 6 Table 7
Caricature Deflation Euphemism Hyperbole Irony Non-sequitur
Colloquialism Disparagement Incongruity Malapropism Litotes Sarcasm

6th Hour topics:

Table 1 Table 3 Table 4 Table 6 Table 7
Knaves and Fools Paradox Pun Stereotyping Wit
Oxymoron Parody Invective Understatement Lampoon

I then gave them one day in class to create their poster together. I provided them with half a poster paper and some markers, etc. It HAD to be done by the end of the hour so it put the pressure on them a bit to learn their element quickly and use it to analyze the visual I had them find and bring into class for homework the night before (also this is much needed practice for the synthesis prompt question 1). They finished it in the 55 minutes fine and I collected them.  ***As they were working on the posters, I was coming up with riddles for 8 locations around my campus – some where to the front office, some were to other teachers classrooms, others to random hallways, etc.

After school, I went around and put 1 to 4 of their posters at each location with the riddle to the next location. It was easy enough. I texted them that night using REMIND.com to wear tennis shoes and that I would highly recommend not wearing a skirt or dress. This I think peaked the curiosity for class which is always fun.

When they came into class, I provided them with a note sheet chart with the satirical element name, a place to write the definition of the element off the poster, and a place to describe the visual (political cartoons that uses said element).

Here were the instructions on my front screen:

1.Send one team member at a time to retrieve ALL the Satire Notes at the station and get the clue to the next location.

2.When the team member returns with notes, tell another team member the next location clue and that person leaves to go get notes.

3.The person that just came in then teaches the remaining members the satire elements they found at their location and the team tries to find them in the piece. The piece I gave them to read and annotate was “Road Warrior” by Dave Barry.

4. The first team to show me completed notes by all team members WINS TWO CLOTHESPINS, the second team will WIN ONE! (For information on my motivational clothespins click here). 

It took the entire hour but by the end I had a winning team and everyone had their notes that we can now use to analyze several short satirical pieces, including A Modest Proposal, and they had a blast, although I wouldn’t recommend it in hot weather!

I think I will do this at least once a year with all my classes on something that was a note-taking or vocabulary type lesson and turn it into something active, competitive, and engaging. What a great way to kick off Quarter 4, and on Friday no less.



Using Blackout Poetry to Discover Thematic Subjects

10th March 2017

My juniors are going to be reading the play, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry next quarter. In order to introduce the theme of fourth quarter, The Pursuit of Unending Happiness, I decided to show them this TED TALK by Dan Gilbert.

In this TED TALK, Gilbert describes why synthetic happiness, the happiness that comes about from “being stuck” with what you have and “watering your own grass” so-to-speak, is actually better than the natural happiness we think we get from the freedom to choose our own happiness. It is a more scientific approach to something abstract and with it being only 20 minutes, it was a great lead-in to the unit as the characters in the play move from what they think will bring them natural happiness to what they ultimately receive in the end, synthetic happiness. As students watched the talk, I asked them to take notes using this note-sheet.

To bring my students into this synthetic happiness experiment, I gave them all different excerpts of the play photocopied onto printer paper (I did not, however, give them any pages from Act 3 as to not give away the ending of the play before we even read it.) If you really want to know I gave them pages 510, 521,498, 503, and 530 from this PDF. They were “stuck” with their page. They were not allowed to change pages with other students or get another one from the stack by the door. They were not too happy about this.

I then used Laura Randazzo’s Blackout Poetry Prezi to introduce them to Blackout Poetry. I told them they were to create their own Blackout Poem using their excerpt from the play and in the end we will see if they are happy with their end result (spoiler alert: they totally were). The TED Talk and Prezi took an entire 55 minute class period.

The next class period, they worked feverishly on their poems; some students “got it” right away and others were agonizing over making their’s perfect. When they felt they messed up, I gave them a new page of their same excerpt to start over. They blacked out, boxed words, designed images, and frankly were so engaged I had to do it myself along with them!

Here are some samples:

When they were finished, we presented them in class and they were SO amazing and they really cheered for each other’s poems and commented on how awesome they all were. It was the perfect way to end the week before Spring Break and a much needed break from essay writing and test prep.

What they don’t realize is that without even knowing it, most of them pulled out words from the passages that are thematic subjects in the play: alcohol, money, religion, freedom, inner demons, mistakes, and happiness. When we get back from break, I will discuss these concepts with them before we read the play.

I am hoping that as we read the play together they will recognize their page from this activity and feel a connection to the piece outside of the story because they made it a piece of themselves.

Education in America: Problem/Solution

2nd February 2017

I have to confess that I have been feeling the dreaded “teacher burnout” lately. This is something that I never thought I would feel. I have always heard and therefore believed that, “if a teacher stays in the field for three years they will teach forever.” And after three years of teaching, I had never felt more fulfilled in my career … until this year – year nine.

This feeling has a lot of contributing factors though: having a new baby and pre-schooler at home, switching schools and districts, being on maternity leave for a good 10 weeks, reading about Finland’s school system, and watching the recent controversy over Betsy DeVos. I am wondering, will I continue to do this? I am feeling exhausted and frankly underappreciated.

I recently gave my students the AP Language prompt about whether or not college is worth the cost. It was one of their first synthesis prompts so I used it as a teaching model and had them work with it as a team creating a poster representation of the sources (the assignment which I took from a GENIUS colleague and thus can’t provide here for you) and their ideas.

While creating these posters, they discussed the sources, found appropriate outside evidence to pair with each source, and then, using Google Docs, wrote some pretty awesome team essays. Team 2 in my 2nd hour wrote this:

“While it may be true that college does manifest unquestionable benefits such as monetary payoff and a wage gap, overall, it is not worth it. Contrary to prominent beliefs, college graduates do not always generate more money than an individual without a degree. On average, in Arizona, a teacher who had to obtain a degree, makes salary of 44,513 dollars a year. While in comparison, a Costco retail store manager, who did not necessarily have to obtain a degree, makes on average 57,233 dollars a year. It is proven that just because one has acquired a college degree, does not mean they are financially superior to someone without a degree. Wage gaps varies with the type of degree someone procures and the field in which they study (Source F).”

Nail-in-burnout-coffin. So, this got me thinking…I want my classes to be rigorous and relevant and what is more relevant than problems with our education system? The students had an interest in this as well and so we went with it.

This quarter, my AP Language and Composition students will be researching a problem with education in America. They will then research all previously tried solutions, ultimately synthesizing these attempts into a viable solution. 

After they wrote the essay on the worth of college, I decided to have them engage in a station rotation activity by watching some TED Talks on education, reading various articles on education with questions to accompany them, and participating in a Socratic seminar (with me at this station) to help generate ideas for their research.

The students then watched and took notes on the documentary Waiting for Superman and afterwards participated in a Socratic Seminar on the film using the documentary, the notes from the station rotation articles and TED Talks, and their own experiences in the educational system as evidence to support their claims.

With all these activities in mind, the students were then ready to create their own “documentary-eske” presentation on one problem and their viable solution.


I truly hope this burnout will end soon as I do believe that what I do every day does matter. I also believe that the majority of my students will one day be in a place to make a large impact in our society, whether it be as a politician, activist, or teacher.

Fear Tactics Presentation

12th December 2016

While I was away on maternity leave, my long-term sub taught Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Johnathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to my on-level junior classes. She did a great job and the students had working knowledge of both pieces when I returned and questioned them.

However, since the theme of the quarter is “The Manipulation of Man,” I wanted to round out the quarter and confirm what they learned while I was away.

Could they apply their knowledge of past “crucibles” and the use of fear tactics in that society to modern “crucibles” and use of fear tactics today?

We began the class period with this article and discussed how social media has become a place where fear tactics are used from politicians to friends at your school. The students read and annotated the piece and then looked at several tweets from Donald Trump as well as tweets from Hillary Clinton (as this election is such a hot topic and great example of both sides using fear tactics). I then had the class brainstorm some modern day “crucibles” as a table and post them to a class Padlet, the most prominent being Islamophobia, but overall this served to be a huge challenge for them.

I provided the students with their partner presentation assignment and sent them off to research fear tactics in modern day speeches, advertisements, campaigns, etc. They also went hunting online for other “witch hunts” in modern day crucibles and what they found was amazing, but it took some research which I liked. I was happy they didn’t just type in “modern day crucible” into Google and immediately get examples, this assignment made them think first and find second instead of the other way around.

Overall, I liked how the assignment synthesized for them the pieces they read in class and also forced them to use their researching skills and connect to the real world. It was a nice way to lead into their explanatory synthesis writing final on tools of manipulation in society.

I hope you all have a fantastic Winter Break and a very Merry Christmas!


Maternity Leave

14th November 2016

Hello! Thank you for stopping by! While I am away on maternity leave from having my baby boy, Miles, on September 21, 2016, I thought I would link my three top viewed blog posts below and for anyone with baby fever, a picture of my new little buddy!

I will be back to teaching and blogging in December!


How Desk Towers Saved My Sanity

Rhetorical Meme Analysis

Teaching Lens Theory