Not-Just-The-Same-Ol’ Book Report

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly

Many of us grew up having to write and present book reports. Even for those of us who loved to read, these reports were often boring and tedious. Unfortunately, this type of traditional book report still rears its ugly head in some classrooms. As educators who seek to promote a love of reading in our students, we know that simply asking our students to write pages about what they read and experienced in a book is not the best approach. But what else can be done? Rather than simply saying “Create something”, I like to give my students a few suggestions on how they can respond.  Here are some reader’s response projects that my students have enjoyed creating and sharing with the class.

Character Soundtrack

Ask students to select a character (usually their favorite) from the novel and choose five major moments of the book that reveal something about that character.  They will then find five songs that they believe accurately represent the character at this moment and make a five-song soundtrack for this character. Lastly, I require that students write a description of the instance and the connection that each song has to the character and the moment in the book (including page numbers).  For high school students, I ask for textual evidence in the form of direct quotes. In order to make this easier, you may want to introduce the projects before students read the book and suggest that they mark or highlight their favorite lines and pages about the characters.

The obvious downfall to this project is that it’s very difficult to work on in class since downloading music isn’t allowed on most school campus. Students can, however, look for lyrics and then download their songs on their own at home.

The Front Page (Newspaper articles)

For this assignment, students choose three major “news worthy” events from the novel. They then create the front page of a newspaper, including three articles (about three different events), pictures, headlines, and titles. I encourage them to use a real newspaper as a model.

Character’s Journal

Students can select and follow one character from their novel and create their journal.  I have found that this is usually most interesting if students select a minor character, or a character who doesn’t speak much in the novel. Students write 5 one-page long journal entries about different points in the novel from the character’s perspective. Students can even enjoy binding them together in a “journal” and creating a cover. I showed students my journal from high school (which was covered with magazine clippings, pictures, and other objects) as an inspiration for their covers.


A dramaturge is someone who focuses on the social particulars of a certain time period. As the dramaturge for their book, students choose either to examine the food, the clothing, or the music of setting. This is especially fun when students know very little of the historical and cultural background of the novel. How students present their research is up to the teacher; it could be in traditional report format, presentation board, multi-media presentation, or even through a pamphlet. I have asked also students to present their findings to the class in the form of the food, song, or visuals.

Theme Billboard

Students create a “billboard” that displays a theme from the novel for “by passers” that catches their attention. Students are highly encouraged to pay careful attention to colors, symbols, motifs, important quotations, and figurative language used in the novel to help them develop their ideas.  I have required an added writing assignment in which students provide an explanation of how the author presents that theme in the novel, including textual evidence and page numbers, but that can be at the discretion of the teacher.

Each of these projects allows students to respond to the novel in a meaningful way, while still focusing on important literary objectives. I highly recommend providing students with strong examples of your expectations before they begin. Then, sit back and watch their reading come alive!



This semester, students in READ 6310  Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Justin Keplinger

As an English Language Arts teacher, I find it important to simultaneously encompass other topics covered in other subject areas. One way I do this in my classroom is through my students’ independent reading books.

The Hunger Games trilogy has been an extremely popular text with my students in recent years. The masterful combination of the simplistic form of the novels make it an easy read; the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale and the science fiction war theme have been able to capture my students’ attention in a way that few books have been able to in the past.


Though I am not a huge fan of the overused love themes in most adolescent literature, I found the reluctant love affair between Peeta and Katniss to be something unique in young adult literature. I think teens who are just beginning to understand romance would benefit from the understanding that love is not always instant but can be a gradual process like the love Katniss has for Peeta.

What I find great about this trilogy is that it parallels with the theme of war and social injustices prevalent in our current mainstream society. The rebellion against the Capitol is a problem being faced not only in this United States but all over the globe (i.e. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda). It is able to portray to students the inner workings of government bias and manipulation in a way that is engaging for the reader. Many students find their history classes cold and dry. However, reading books like this (i.e. 1984 by George Orwell and The Running Man by Stephen King) will help them parallel what they are learning in both subject areas.

Another innovative facet of the novel is the idea of the female heroine – not common in most books of this genre. It lends a hand for more girls on the secondary level to take a chance with science fiction and shows them what they can learn from reading more books like these.


Especially since Hollywood has taken the story and adapted it, I believe this story should be implemented in not just Language Arts classes, but in other subject areas as well. Each district seems to have it’s own biome, something that could be easily implemented in science classes. And as I previously stated, social studies can respond to the type of government exhibited and the social issues present.

This series has the potential to be an all-encompassing tool within each discipline if in the right hands of an imaginative educator.

The Literary Catwalk: How Teachers Model

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly


“Read, read, read. Read everything… and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…”

                                                                       – Mark Twain

 As writing is an artistic form of communication, and communication is a critical skill in our society, an individual who writes well has the opportunity to be successful in many different areas in life. As teachers, we hope to produce students who have a deep understanding of this form of art. Yet, because it is one of the highest forms of output, many of our students struggle. Over the past few years, I have sought to improve myself as a writing teacher and I believe I may have found the golden ticket; let it be understood that this golden ticket in itself is not enough for admittance into the Wonderful World of Writing, but it is hugely important in helping students develop as writers.

This past school year, I was in tears over how poorly some of my students were writing. We had been working for MONTHS on simply writing paragraph-length responses to literature and providing textual evidence as support. I had tried every formula that I knew of (ACE- Answer/Cite Evidence/Explain, APE, ABC… the list goes on) to help students understand what these paragraphs should include. I had given them examples that they had taped into their interactive journals. We had looked at and rated all of the samples that had been provided by the state, but all I had to show for it was a bunch of choppy sentences, some of which were quotes that students had slapped down in an attempt to fulfill the requirements of the formula. Why is this so difficult? I mused. What am I doing wrong? Then, as if from the heavens (or from the long-disregarded advice of a co-worker), the answer came. I have to show them! In my desperate attempt to right my wrongs, I sat down at my document camera the next day and wrote. From that point forward, writing was real for my students.

Modeling writing for students with my own writing has proven to have a number of benefits. As with many forms of text, a teacher’s writing can provide the input that students need to in order to produce written output. Students can begin to mimic my writing examples and use them as a springboard for their own ideas. Direct and delayed spill over occurs, meaning that the conventions, spelling, syntax, structure and vocabulary that I use often shows up in my students writing both immediately and in future writings. Once students become comfortable doing this on their own, they can begin to play with my style and bend it to make it their own.

Additionally, I make sure to model the entire writing process for my students in order to emphasize that even experienced writers do not jump straight into a final draft. When they see my extensive planning and multiple drafts, they begin to take more time in these areas. They also lose the fear of putting ideas on paper, because they understand that it’s ok to write something that isn’t perfect. This also provides an excellent teacher-student bonding opportunity when students are able to see that even their teacher makes mistakes.

Most importantly, students become increasingly motivated and engaged when they realize that people they know, including their teacher, actually write and use their writing as a mode of expression. When I made the choice to share my writing with students, I gained a little more respect from them. All of this together lowers students’ affective filters and causes them to “drop their guard” so that real learning can occur. That in itself makes it worth it for teachers to take the time to “walk the literary catwalk” and model good writing as a master writer.

Vocabulary in High School

This semester in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study, students were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By Ann V.

Since becoming a high school English teacher close to twenty years ago, I have participated in many conversations centered around how to teach vocabulary in a way so that students will be able to use the words correctly in speaking, writing and reading throughout their lives. Unfortunately, this is a difficulty that doesn’t seem to go away. Despite many different attempts, quality vocabulary instruction is still something that is lacking in many high school classrooms.

Since becoming the English Instructional Coach for my school, I have been put in charge of helping teachers implement several different strategies in their classrooms. One of these instructional strategies that I know I will have to focus on for this coming year is vocabulary instruction and the use of word walls.  We are already expected to use word walls, but there is not a teacher I know that uses it effectively. With the help of the book From Phonics to Fluency, the internet, and adjusting ideas that I have seen done in different classrooms, I have come to understand several important factors involved with teaching vocabulary and also, how word walls can help teachers and students with that vocabulary.

First, with so many words that students must know, how do teachers chose the vocabulary to focus on?  From my understanding, vocabulary must be useful to the students, usable by the students and frequently used in the particular subject area. Also, teachers don’t want to have so many new words that it is overwhelming for the students. Many teachers have the students chose the words that are going to be studied, so they can pick the words that they need help with the most. After deciding what words to focus one, making sure that the students have the opportunity to use these words in meaningful ways is the next step in effective vocabulary instruction.

Word walls can be a very easy, yet meaningful strategy that any subject area teacher can implement into their curriculum. Among many other things, words walls can improve vocabulary which will improve reading, comprehension and writing skills. They also reinforce understanding of vocabulary found in specific subject areas so that the students can internalize these key concepts. Awareness of spelling patterns and therefore, spelling improvement is also a benefit that word walls provide the students. One of the biggest advantages that word walls can contribute to the classroom is students becoming more independent when reading and writing, which is what every teacher strives for.

To make the word walls meaningful is what is important. There are many ways that teachers can make these walls helpful to students. The use of word walls for vocabulary instruction can be used for whole group, small group, or individual activities. In order for the students to use the wall as much as necessary, it is a good idea for the vocabulary on the wall to be in large font so that it is visible from anywhere in the classroom. Also, many teacher organize their words in alphabetical order and color code them so that students can find whatever word they are looking for as quickly as possible. Lastly, making the wall interactive so they students can move the words around makes the students take ownership of the vocabulary.

There are many ways that secondary teachers can teach vocabulary, and using word walls is just one of many ideas that can be used in the classroom in order for students to not only know, but also understand and correctly use new vocabulary.

Getting High School Students to Enjoy Reading

This semester students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Ann Velarde (Slusher)

As everyone knows, getting students to read is a very difficult task. Since I teach high school students, I have stopped and asked myself whether it is too late to get my students to find reading enjoyable. The challenge that I gave myself after the STAAR test was over was to get my students to read. It has been two weeks since I have started introducing new approaches to literacy and I have had many challenges, but also some successes.

 baseballThe first approach that I implemented is read alouds. There are several things that I want to accomplish through these read a louds. First, I am introducing various cultures through the stories that I read. I started with a chapter in Gary Soto’s book Baseball in April.  I read about a third of the story and realized that it wasn’t going very well. I honestly don’t think that my students knew how to react to me reading to them, so I simply stopped and told them that we would continue the story tomorrow.  I knew I had to regroup. The next day I had copies of the story for each student to follow along. This worked so much better. After I finished reading, we discussed the story and many students made connections to the characters. 

grandfatherThe second story that I read to them was a picture book called Grandfather’s Journey, which is about an Asian man who comes to America, but still missed his homeland. My students loved it! Even though the characters were Asian, many could relate to the feeling that they had regarding America and their birth place. I also read a short story by Anne Estevis from her book Down Garrapata Road titled “The Prisoner.” The conversations that my students had were so rich that they were still talking about it as they were walking out of my classroom. Needless to say, that put a smile on my face all day!

voicesToday, I let my students choose someone to work with and gave them a poem and story from Voices form the Fields. This is a collection of interviews and photographs of children of migrant farm workers by S. Beth Atkins.  The partners read each of them and tomorrow will “respond” to the texts. I know this is going to be difficult for them because they are use to being told exactly how to answer something.  I told them that had to put something on paper to prove to me that they found a connection to the two pieces of texts.  I was accused of making them think, which they don’t like to do.


keepingNext week, I am going to read The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Pollacco . This story is about a Jewish family from Russia who came to the United States, but decided to make a quilt from all of the important things from their homeland and it is then passed down to each generation to remind them of where they came from.

Another approach that I am trying in my classroom is what I am calling Free Read Fridays.  I told my students that every Friday they are going to read for thirty minutes. They can read anything that they want: magazines, newspapers, novels of any type, and they can also use their I-pads to find something to read. My school library had several magazines that they were willing to donate to my classroom, and my school gets the paper three times a week, and so I have those available for my students as well. I was pretty surprised how many students brought something to read last Friday. Most read magazines or something on their I-pads. I did have to make sure they were actually reading on the I-pads and not playing games, but once that rule was established things went rather smoothly.

Introducing my students to new approaches to literacy this late in the year is harder than it would be if I had done this from the beginning. However, I realize that I can take what I am learning now and adapt and change it for the start of the upcoming school year.

AP Skills in Mexican American Literature

By Isai Cabrera

This post was contributed by a student in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature.

When reading La Linea I was taken back to my Mexican American Studies courses at a time that I discovered my passion for Chicano Literature, Chicano Movement, and Chicano History.  This type of literature breaks through the ordinary English Language Arts class, Reading Class, or Social Studies class, and cuts at the heart of Political Agenda, Religious Dogma, and Cultural Revolution still relevant today.  It allows the reader to flow through aspects of today’s Political, Socio Economic, and Social Issues and not just stagnate in a story plot. We can tie all these high interest-engaging themes to AP skills that our students can master. 

 The novel allows English teachers to teach the skill of Juxtaposition within the main characters-Miguel and Elena.  The comparison that the author uses to show the different qualities each possess lends to allowing students to identify juxtaposition within Mexican American literature.  In the past when I have tried to use a short story, novel, or poetry to teach juxtaposition my students can only show mastery if the skills is isolated.  I have found this year after reading the short story La Linea my students seem to be more receptive to the concept of Juxtaposition.   This demonstrates that Mexican American reading can be used for Pre AP curriculum.

Another AP skill that I taught using the short story was the use of minor characters within the story to build the plot-character types in the genre of fiction.  In AP classes students must know the importance of minor characters to the plot, conflict, and theme to any story.  The author utilizes the minor characters in the story enhance and move the characters along with the plot and subplot, and add to characterizations of the main characters.  Our students should be able to know the types of characters in the genre of fiction such as dynamic, flat, round, foil, static, and stock characters adheres to the short story.     

Javier seems to play off very well next to Miguel as a foil character-which is the opposite qualities of the protagonist.  Javiers demonstrates “Compadrismo (Camaraderie) or Solidaridad (Unity)” in the short story.  While when we first get introduced to Javier, Miguel already builds a barrier between both. This example among several throughout the short story allows our young readers to master the concept of types of characters in the fiction genre.   

Another type of character we can teach is flat character.  Moises’s is a character that doesn’t go through changes in the story and remains with the same qualities.   We meet Moises as a dry straight to the point coyote and remain the same through the reading.  As we present these examples our students can become familiar with types of characters. 

Another AP skill we can teach is allusion. For example the allusion to Moses from the Bible is created by the author with Moises is leading his people (Miguel, Javier, and Elena) to the Promised Land –the United States.  Moises’ journey through the desert is like Moses who led the Jewish people for forty years, and Moises also has the same fate as the biblical figure, which was not to reach Israel (or in their case the United States). Both figures die before getting their people to the Promised Land, even though they guided them to it.  Our students can make connections and start to master these skills with the use of a short story.

I strongly believe that we can teach AP skills to our students with literature that can relate to their culture, identities, and language.  Teachers, we can definitely start to introduce these skills to our students and can set them up for success in the future.