From August, 2013

Extended Looking: Using Images to Build Theme Statements

I worked with Kristina Claytor and Allie Sberna this week using a strategy learned/modified from the Pages program at the Wexner Center.  This learning activity is one I have utilized many times, and it was a pleasure to work with two patient, flexible and talented teachers trying it out with a new group of students who are learning to “look deeper” and explore thematic connections.

The “product” of the strategy is the creation of a single sentence theme statement that is supported by multiple pieces of evidence from an image students have studied.  Here is the image from which students gathered information.

Garden of Selves

This image is from Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. Here is a link to the original image online.

Here are the learning targets provided to students:

  • I can look carefully and  critically.
  • I can contribute meaningful ideas to a collaborative conversation.
  • I can write a theme statement that reflects a deep understanding of a theme.

I usually introduce themes to students as topics (or “big ideas” if you prefer) plus an opinion about that topic.  Here are some of the “big ideas” or topics students were able to come up with using this strategy:


We explained a theme is one of these big ideas/topics above, plus what they think an author/artist is saying about this topic (his/her opinion).

Example: Topic (Creativity) + Opinion (can require seeing/doing what others may not yet understand).

So a theme statement might be: Creativity can require seeing and doing what others may not yet understand.

Students might support this theme statement with evidence from the text by saying that, “The man represents creativity because he is the only one ‘seeing’ what is in the distance, so he is the only one willing to escape the box.  The others remain curled in the containers because they don’t believe in or have knowledge of this new understanding.”

This is a very difficult concept for students; it takes practice.  They may have to look back at and revise the theme statements after the teacher collects them and gives feedback.  However, this is also an essential skill for literary response.

The following is a handout I have given to teachers to explain the activity step by step.  I have also attached the instructions as a downloadable document at the bottom of the post.

Extended Looking Activity: Learning Goals  

This lesson is a scaffolding tool to help students understand theme in literary works.  The learning goal is to have students be able to write a “thesis statement” for what they think the piece means; they must base it on evidence they have gathered from the piece itself.


Extended Looking Instructions

  1. Look and observe the art – you can move around, get closer etc. Write down observations and questions about it (5 min.)
  2. Discuss the visual image.  What is happening in the photo?  Here you are noting details and making observations, no talk of meaning yet (5 min)
  3. Make connections to and ask questions about the art in writing. What are your thoughts about the piece, what does it make you think of, does it remind you of anything etc.  (5 min.)
  4. Discuss the connections students found in the piece and continue to have students use the evidence they have gathered to support their perspective ( 5 min.)
  5. Introduce and model a theme statement for students.  Have students write a “theme statement” for what they think the piece of art means and support it with evidence from the art itself (10 min.)
  6. Tell them the name and a little about the artist. (I do this the next day and build suspense!)  Does this change your perspective on the piece?  Are you glad you know?  (They usually are not.)


  • Before step five, have students write short form poetry about the art or a piece of narrative
  • Talk about the process of how the art was created and use it to model students own work in writing after the activity

Connections to help students make:

  • Literature and art are very similar and we can talk about them the same way and go through the same process of analysis with them
  • An artist or writer has an intent, but viewer/reader also bring their own experience to the table to create “meaning”
  • This activity shows how argument is developed because students needed to use support for their ideas

This activity was modified from the 2011-2012 PAGES summer workshop for teacher-partners at the Wexner Center, and photography used to conduct the activity was created by Robert and Shana ParkHarrison from The Architect’s Brother collection.

Here is the printable resource Extended Viewing Activity 2

“Zoom In” Strategy Part II: Reflection and Application to Text

After I left Laura’s classroom, she did some really interesting work on her own.  First of all, she had students reflect on the experience in a number of ways and shared these reflections with me.  Here is a picture of the discussion guide she gave to students:


The responses she received showed students making many connections from the activity to working with texts.  For example, students said such text-based skills might be “interpreting” what is not directly explained by an author, “hypothesizing” about what will happen in the future of a text, and looking for “context clues” in texts to determine meaning.

Students also identified that as they continued to look closer and for longer in the activity, they were able to think of the “deeper meaning,” look more “critically” and “wonder” about more things.  In addition, one student said that when he doesn’t understand something he would “ask meaningful questions” about it to help him understand.

Laura followed this reflection by reading the back cover of Of Mice and Men with students and discussing what they might hypothesize the book will be about.  Students made connections to Naturalism and the book cover to make predictions.

Laura plans to continue to build on this activity through examining foreshadowing in the text and predicting future events with students as they read.

“Zoom In” Strategy Part I: Observations and Building a Hypothesis

I worked with Laura Laborde in her classroom using a strategy with the following learning targets:

  • I can observe closely and critically.
  • I can form a flexible hypothesis.
  • I can ask meaningful questions.

These targets are similar to, and could be used as scaffolding for, close reading.  In addition, the activity addresses speaking and listening skills.  Laura and I worked with images instead of text, but I think this same technique is transferable to text.  We also started with the 3-2-1 strategy, and students used the word “looking” to explore thinking about that concept.

There are still a few bugs to work out with this strategy (we only tried it twice), so if other teachers try it, I would love to hear variations!

We used a piece of art from The Great Depression because Laura is introducing Of Mice and Men right now to students, and the image reinforces how individuals were disempowered (like Lenny, Crooks, Curley’s wife and others) during The Great Depression.

The strategy is as follows:

1.  Show a piece of an image. 

Crop One jpeg
2.  Ask students to write down what they observe
3.  Discuss what students wrote down
4.  Have students write a hypothesis/interpretation for what the image might be and ask a question about the image, specifically, something they “wonder” about
5.  Share and discuss
6.  Show a second piece of the image 

Crop 2 jpeg
7.  Repeat step two and three (observation-share)
8.  Ask them to revisit the original hypothesis and revise it evaluating how thinking has changed and come up with another thing they are “wondering” now
9.  Share and discuss
10.  Show a third piece of the image and repeat the process, but this time, maybe ask students to deepen the thinking about the hypothesis focusing on not just what the image is, but also on what it means.  You can begin to talk about themes in this way

Crop 3 jpeg
11.  Cont. showing parts of the image and repeated the process until it is totally revealed to students
Have a final reflective conversation about how students thinking changed and why it was important to form a hypothesis but also be flexible throughout the process

Crop 4 jpeg

This is ALMOST the full image. Click on the link to the complete Power Point to see the whole thing.

12.  After this process, students were brought back to the 3-2-1 strategy as part of the reflection.  I am going to talk more about this in the second post about the “Zoom In” strategy which Laura implemented on her own.

Here is a Power Point with the images used for this activity:  Zoom In, Great Depression Activity

This activity was modified from Making Thinking Visible.

3-2-1 Strategy: Alternative to Exit Tickets

3 2 1 Screen JPEGHere is a form students can use for this strategy (link for actual form at the bottom of the post)

The assessment is called “3-2-1.”  This is an activity from Making Thinking VisibleIt is intended to see how students thinking expands or changes on a topic/key idea/skill after you have provided novel information.  It would be an interesting replacement for an exit ticket.  It might also be a way to explore “thinking” or “process” skills (Ex: collaboration, critical thinking, inference, hypothesis etc.) .  The instructions are as follows:

Part I

Before the lesson

1.  Write a word on the board for which you will provide new information (Ex.: historical event, literary time period, presentation skill, thinking strategy etc.)

2.  Have students write the following:

  • 3 words they associate with the topic/key idea/skill
  • 2 questions they have about the topic/key idea/skill
  • 1 metaphor about the topic/key idea/skill

3.  At this point, I thought it was helpful to discuss/share student ideas before teaching the lesson, watching the video, reading the passage etc.

Part II

After the lesson

1.  Have students review the 3-2-1 from before the lesson/new information

2.  Repeat step 2 from Part I, asking students to consider initial responses and how thinking has changed

3.  Discuss/reflect on the changes with students

4.  Collect the 3-2-1 from students for formative assessment

Here is a 3 2 1 Strategy handout to give to students.

Grab: A Tool to Pull Online Images

Instructional coach Brian Seymour shared this application with me during a coaches meeting, and it seems VERY handy for pulling images and text from sources online.


The coaches at the weekly meeting.

The directions to access it are as follows:

1.  Go —> Applications —>Utilities —> Grab (you can pull the icon to your tools at the bottom of your desktop if you don’t want to do this every time) —> At this point, “Capture” appears at the top of your screen next to “File” and “Edit”

2.  Go to the website you want to “grab” an image from (I went to this website which has some awesome images I have used in class)

3.  Choose the image you want (I used this one)

4.  Click “Capture” at the top of your screen —> click “Select”

5.  Now, you can click and drag over what you want to save.  You will see a box outline the selected area, the image will be created in a seperate file which pops up and you can save it where you want!

Here is the one I saved:

Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison Work

There are two things about using this application.  One, if you are not able to download “Grab” let me know; I will send a Helpdesk ticket for you.  Two, when I wanted to put this image on my blog, I had to “save as” a a jpeg file.  It will automatically save as a tif file.  If you need help trying this out, let me know.

Socratic Seminar Resources

A couple of teachers used some of Sandy Juniper’s resources (I believe) to run Socratic seminars in classes.  I have tried to gather some of the resources here for you to use in your own classrooms should you choose to do so.  The basic idea for this version is that students come prepared having read and annotated a text, then they participate in an “inner circle” and “outer circle” role throughout the class period. Here is a picture of the set up.  The black stool is the “hot seat” where students can choose to enter the circle to be part of the discussion temporarily.


The inner circle is made of a discussion group.  The outer circle keeps track of the conversation through hard copies of discussion guides.  Here is one student’s example.


Here is an example of Melissa’s scoring.


In the two versions I saw, the teacher chose the questions, but Kristina Claytor has her students write their own questions before they discuss.  Also, Sam Bosse ran his seminar as one large group, and he was the only one who recorded the speaking of each member so they all could participate.

This video shows a ninth grade class that is struggling with Socratic seminar.  It has some really interesting ideas when it comes to students coaching one another.  It also addresses the idea of “wait time” so that students can have ownership of the process.  The seminar topic is the importance of poetic language which addresses a CCS.  On the website with this video, there is also a handout that the teacher used beforehand to prep students for this discussion.

Here is a video about a controversial topic with resources provided for teachers in the bottom right.  It addresses the use of the “n-word” in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  In this version, there are specific “roles” students play, in addition to coaching one other student.

Here is one last video that focuses on more of a “debate style” and students “tap one another out” to get new people in the story.  This teacher gives points for using models of “respectful language” to encourage civil discussion.

Here are the actual resources used by teachers:

  • Intro to Socratic Seminar includes the historical context of Socrates and his value and contributions to our modern society.  It is a great introductory resource for teachers and students as it outlines types of comments for discussion and includes learning goals, both of which seem helpful starting out.
  • Socratic scoring can be used by teachers and peers to evaluate students.  One teacher said they only have students record the “types of comments” and not “connections” or else it is too much.
  • If you want the actual questions used to compare Fahrenheit 451  and Into the Wild, please email Sam Bosse for access to his Prezi.

Mashup: Painful Poetry, Cliffhanger Prose, Six Word Memoirs and Existential Questions

I want to begin with a quote from Susan Turley today that I loved, “You should never do a project to please me- always to please yourself, but I’ll just tell you some things I like.”

Her students are getting ready to start their first Thematic Studies projects where they will incorporate non-fiction, analysis of The Lord of the Flies, and public speaking skills.  The brainstorming brought about a lot of really interesting questions to explore for the projects.


If you can’t read them, these are some of my favorites:

  • What elements can deteriorate one’s sense of humanity?
  • What makes an individual able to rise above the social constructs others cannot?
  • What role does ritual play in society?
  • How does society create false realities?

Here are some six word memoirs written by Mandy Fetty’s students.

IMG_1103 IMG_1102 IMG_1101 IMG_1100

This is the official six word memoir website  and here is the teen version.  This NPR story has a gallery of visual six word memoirs on the left which could be used as a visual for students.  You can also order the books if you like your sources in hard copy.

Tim Starkey’s ninth grade class read a story without an ending that got a man’s house burned down and his children kidnapped called “The Lady or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton.  I also found this video on Youtube of someone reading the story, just in case you don’t have the gripping narrative skills he demonstrated for his students.

In Leslie Harris’ class, students read a compelling poem called My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke and then analyzed the poem to see whether it was about an abusive father or a loving dance.  I heard many students having genuine debate on the issue and citing evidence to support the claims they made.

Learning Targets- Tracking Sheets and Examples

What does Ben Baptiste love?


…learning targets!  Just ask him about it. : )

He was one of many teachers to have them posted in both of the schools this week when I visited classrooms.

Here are some examples of targets I saw.




Here are two tracking sheets I created for students to record the learning targets for a unit.  The idea behind them is that students would attach all of the “evidence” of the targets to the sheet for teachers as part of a formative assessment.

There is also a tracking sheet for the teacher to use at the end of units as a reference.

Concise Writing Resources

“The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones. Writers often fill sentences with weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced. Words and phrases should be deliberately chosen for the work they are doing. Like bad employees, words that don’t accomplish enough should be fired. When only the most effective words remain, writing will be far more concise and readable.”   

-Taken from the Owl Purdue Website

Sarah Harris was looking to reinforce skills of concise writing, so I gathered these (potentially) helpful resources and thought I would share.

On a sub-note, because it is a test focused on students’ ability to revise, concise writing is one of the major skills required for ACT preparation.

Here is a link to an online quiz that could be taken in class with students.  I also made a Concise Writing Practice Handout that goes along with it so that students can have a hard copy, too.

This link has a PDF handout about tips for revision focusing on concise language.  It is a good reference for teachers and students.

The Art and Struggle of Storytelling

Some of the central questions to narrative study are: why do we tell stories, what can we learn from them about ourselves and others, and what makes a story relevant and engaging?  Throughout this week, a number of teachers explored these questions as they began narrative units, and some utilized a storytelling strategy designed by Kevin Cordy (a professor from Dominican University and a professional storyteller).  In the activity, students begin to explore narrative through the art of storytelling.  I saw three variations on the strategy that all had strengths.

The first one was used by Melissa Larisch.  She began the lesson by going over norms for group work.


Then, students were grouped in sets of five and given the list of prompts.  They had two minutes to tell a story of his or her choice, and after each one, there was a one minute period of positive feedback.  She also used the timer suggested by Eric Koch on his list of “helpful resources” sent out last week to keep time for transitions. The next day, the students rehashed the activity and identified areas of struggle.

Renee Jackson used the same list of prompts, but instead grouped students and had them complete the following two activities:

1.  Discuss what makes a good movie or story.

2.  Write the beginning to your own story of choice and be prepared to share with your group members.

Renee focused on the idea of a beginning to a story that would make the reader want to read the rest.  After all of the groups had time to share with one another, then they picked the favorite and read it to the rest of the class aloud.

Dave Watros and Diana Glanzman paired two students to share a story aloud, and each person got to pick the prompt that they wanted to hear from their partner.  Then, after they shared, they moved on to a another partner, and told the same story to a new person.  As homework, students wrote about what they learned from the activity.  The next day they shared what they learned in groups and also shared what they learned about themselves from the activity.

When Dave and I circulated to talk to students in groups, the things they learned were really interesting.  While some cited specific elements of others’ lives, others discussed the the varying degrees of truth or the range of creativity of their peers.

One of the challenges that the teachers identified for students was the ability/confidence to share stories with one another.  Public speaking, especially combined with narrative, may be a novel skill for many high school students.

However, this activity does introduce students to later speaking and listening standards.  It also introduces the concept of narrative through exploring storytelling.  One element that seemed to be really important in the activity was the ability to reflect on the experience and examine the skills required and how the struggles faced could be overcome.  It might even be a good idea to chunk this activity over a couple of days with short stints each day (maybe a warm up the first five minutes of class?) with a rehash each time to see what students learned about narrative and public speaking through the activity.

Here is a copy of the story prompts these teachers used: Storytelling Scavenger Hunt.