Monthly Archives: September 2007


The Humanity of a S.S. Officer


When I taught The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender over the past few years, my students found it difficult to understand the compassion of one of the guards in the story. They couldn’t see these beastly men and women in a kind light. We had wonderful conversations about how someone could be both joyful and monstrous which helped my students to see the complexity of the war from an individual’s perspective.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is currently featuring an online gallery of photos of S.S. solders in casual settings. The pictures, from a 60-year old photo album, are a powerful illustration of the human side of these men and women. Seeing them laughing, posing, and celebrating will surely spark some interesting discussion.

via Boing Boing

Rap for English

I’ve been playing around with the idea of doing a blog for my middle school focusing on using rap lyrics to get at daily oral language and to build vocabulary. I think the potential is definitely there. I’m worried about two things. Can I come up with material consistently enough to make it worthwhile for the students? Secondly, can/should I use an appropriate portion from an inappropriate song? These are middle school students so it gets a little iffy and the county I’m in is pretty conservative. That being said they are having a Souljah Boy dance party at our school and played a clip from the song today on the intercom. So maybe I could pull this off.

I’d love to use lyrics like the ones below from TI’s “You Don’t Know Me”

You gone make me bring da chevy to a real slow creep
My Partner hangin out the window, mouth fulla gold teeth
When the guns start poppin, wonder when its gonna cease
choppa hitchu on the side and create a slow leak
We can end the speculation cuz today we gone see
What’s the future of a sucka who be hatin on me
i don’t care about the feds investigation on me
I don’t care they at my shows and they waitin on me
Ima keep a flossin poppin long as Toomp is on the beat
Tell police that I ain’t stoppin Ima keep it in the streets
Contrary to yo believes, im as real as you can be

You’ve got great vocabulary in there and you could come at this two ways- have them “translate” this into formal English or write it in formal English and they have to figure out which song it’s from. I’d probably use the former more but the latter would be nice for a change every so often.

The formal version-

Sir, you are going to force me to drive by you slowly in my Chevrolet.
My friend will be leaning out of the window. You’ll notice his teeth are covered in gold.
When the firearms begin to fire, you’ll likely wonder when they are going to cease.
If a bullet impacts your lower abdomen you’ll start to bleed slowly.
There’s no need to speculate because today we will find out for sure
what will be the fate of the unfortunate individual who covets my stature.
I am not concerned about the ongoing federal investigation of my person.
I am under surveillance at my performances and they are waiting for me yet I remain unconcerned.
I will continue to seize life with a joie de vivre as long as the music continues.
Inform the police department that I will continue to be true to my self.
Contrary to your beliefs, I am a forthright and honest individual.

It’d be hard to keep it up on daily basis but even if I had to avoid violence I could probably dig up older stuff. I know I’d have to get it started with new songs though- get some momentum going.

What do you think? Doable? Worth the time/effort? or am I just amusing myself?

A 6 Word Story and A 4 Slide Sales Pitch

I heard an amazing graphic designer say something about loving restrictions because they force creativity (a great podcast from SXSW). That’s something we ought to use, as well as do, in teaching.

So let’s start by restricting the students . . .

6 Word Stories
This is a great way to get students focused on story elements and on clear, concise language. They’d also be great writing prompts. This link is to Say It Better where I found the post and this one is to a much larger list of 6 word stories at Wired. Some of the examples have non-school safe language so you probably won’t want to send students right there.

My favorites-

With bloody hands, I say good-bye.
– Frank Miller

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
– Alan Moore

This assignment forces a lot of deep processing and creativity. You could also use it as an option for your vocabulary work with bonuses for good “stories” with more than one vocab word in them (used correctly of course). You might want to expand the word limit but make things hard for your students. Difficult and creative is the opposite of boring.

4 Slide Sales Pitch
It’s similar in idea to dy/dan’s four slide sales pitch.

how well you can sell yourself in four (4) picture-only slides. No audio, no video, no hyperlinks, no multimedia miscellany. Just pictures and text. Make us want you.

This is another great way to get students (and teachers) thinking about economy in how they present information. This is really higher level thinking and I like the combination of visuals and words that the presentation option allows.

There are lots of ways to use this and focus it on content as well. A four slide bio of Ghengis Khan. A four slide summary of whatever. Then you can embed the slide shows or stories in WordPress blog posts with the star ratings plugin and let your kids vote on their favorites- instant interaction, real world audience and content review, mix in some comments and you could even get peer editing going on.

You could even combine the two and come up with a four picture 6 word story (or go crazy and give them 10 words). Maybe one week you pick the pictures and the next week the student who “wins” the contest picks them.

Wikipedia Mindmap – more data visualization!

Wiki mindmap fish

Wiki Mind

This is a really cool free site that’d be great to use in the classroom.

You pick a topic from wikipedia and it creates an interactive mind map of the content. Click on the pluses and topics expand. You can even change the “center” topic of the map on the fly. Lots of cool stuff you could do with this and it’d be a great way to get to those visual learners that don’t respond well to outlines or even static mind maps.

Too bad you can’t point it at any mediawiki site. That’d really open up some interesting options in the classroom.