Writing a Description of the Scene for Middle Schoolers

Putting your thoughts down on paper is like catching a firefly at night. You can see it clearly, but when you reach for it…well…it does not turn out as you would have predicted. All the more true for Middle Schoolers who are just beginning to articulate themselves fully in writing. Here I want to explain a method to help young students write descriptions. The secret is to use your eyes instead of your hands.

First and foremost, I provide a picture of a scene. At a young age, visualizing everything in your mind distracts from trying to write. You ask for a lot of juggling. I like to use scenes from Disney films because they are very recognizable and the student already knows the story.

Secondly, I break down what I want to know. Over the course of several lessons, I would devote a lesson to each of these:
Actions: The literal actions that take place in the scene.

Standing, running, holding, laughing, looking, etc.

The people themselves and their appearance:

Woman or man? Young girl or teenage boy? What color is her hair? What type of shirt is he wearing? How big are her eyes?

Connecting everything:

Does her red hair connect with his red hair? Could they be related? Why is she looking at this? Does her expression explain how she feels about the painting?

Thirdly, I will ask them to make a list for each category. I am very serious about making a list. I do not want them to attempt to write a paragraph too soon. When we read young people’s writing, too often it resembles: “she looks sad. she is in a dress. It is sunny. she…. it….” This is because our brains naturally wants to just process the information. Young students (and many adults) cannot articulate themselves at the same moment they are digesting the information. Thus, I separate the steps.

Lastly, we write the paragraph! Since everything is processed and organized, the student writes with more confidence. Everything has come from the student; I have not fed them the lines. Moreover, they have arrived to it in a way that does not overload or pressure them.

The result, the paragraph itself, depends on the student. We may then talk about combining smaller pieces of information or about the order of ideas. The main outcome is that we have something to work with and we can keep our discussion firmly rooted in writing instead of juggling mental images and overwhelming number of ideas.

Here is an example.

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Actions

  • An older woman stands at the door.
  • She is holding a key.
  • The young woman gasps.
  • She holds a scroll.
  • She turns around.
  • The women are looking at each other.

Appearance

  • The older woman is the stepmother. (It is not wrong to add plot points taken from the film itself because the picture is just there to help stimulate the student.)
  • She has dark hair, probably grey.
  • Her whole appearance is cast in shadow.
  • She is wearing a dark magenta dress.
  • The magenta dress is very long. It goes up to the neck and down to the wrist and ankles.
  • The other woman is younger.
  • She is Cinderella.
  • She is very pretty.
  • Her hair is strawberry blonde and short.
  • Cinderella is wearing a dress, blue and brown, and an apron, white.
  • Her eyes are very large and blue.
  • He mouth is opened very wide.
  • The room itself is hardly seen.
  • There is a door, table, and mirror.
  • The mirror is large, but slightly broken.

Connection

  • Cinderella has big eyes and an open mouth because she sees her stepmother at the door.
  • Her big eyes and opened mouth show that she is shocked.
  • The step mother is holding a key because she wants to lock the door.
  • The scroll invites Cinderella to the Ball.

Summary paragraph: Cinderella is a beautiful young girl with blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. She is holding an invitation to the Ball. Her stepmother clutches the key ready to lock her into a room. Cinderella gasps at the sight of her stepmother because she is shocked.

No, this inevitably would not be what an 11 year old would write. I wrote it to demonstrate the concept. However, I have seen that, with this exercise, the student writes more than usual. He feels more comfortable. He does not feel as overwhelmed or pressured. With clear steps and a fixed image, the student is freer to write and I, as the teacher, can focus my time on productive comments about that writing.

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3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts: Study Skills

Studying is overwhelming enough, but bad habits make it worse. The list below focuses on reducing the feelings of being overwhelmed and increasing the manageability of your schedule and information. Check out the Youtube video that goes with this for more details.

Do:
Untitled.0011. Make monthly-weekly-daily Goals: Tasks like writing a term paper, preparing for a large exam, or learning a large concept cannot be accomplished in one day. Split it into small pieces and then move those tasks into a convenient time within a month, week, and day.

For example:
Month of January – Write a 20 page paper on the First Chinese Emperor
Weekly goals – Collect all the research • finish the first draft • finalize the paper
Daily goals – Research for 45 minutes • write the introduction • proof edit the conclusion

Untitled.0022. Do a little everyday: Collect your notes or grab your book. Marathons are more efficient than sprints. Reread your study guide once a day. Just read it, nothing fancy. Or take another 10 page dent out of that book. 5-10 minutes is all. You will be better off to study or read a little rather than a lot at one time because you will not become burnt out or overwhelmed. Also, your mind will be open to new perspectives and soft to remembering new nuances if you reread your material regularly.

3. Write and rewrite and rewrite again: Each time you rewrite something, you will simplify it and make it more memorable. This is particularly true with study notes. Rewrite them after a period of time and not just all in one day. Check the video at the bottom, which goes with this post, for more details.

Don’ts:
1. Don’t list non-accomplishable tasks: Only write todo items that are achievable and measurable.

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2. Don’t use a highlighter in a textbook: Highlighting words is a passive action. In order to digest what you read, you need to write your own comments and not just highlight the original. Capturing impressions and observations in your own words promotes remembering and understanding the information.Untitled.006

3. Don’t keep your space messy: All of yours things randomly distributed will only clutter up your mind. A tidy space keeps your mind tidy. In the morning and evening review your todo list and tidy your space for optimal productivity.

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Bonus tip in my Youtube video! Watch ’til the end!

Veni Vidi Didici: An Intro to Latin through the eyes of English speakers

Latin is over two thousand years old!  Until being displaced by French and then English, Latin held the position of being the literary language of the West. Authors took to their pens with it to record ideas of philosophy, politics, spirituality, science, diplomacy, music, and love. You may have heard of some of the most famous Latin authors: Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, and Seneca. The list does not end there…additionally: Augustine, Bede, Erasmus, Issac Newton, etc. No matter what you are interested in, there is a book for you in Latin! There is even a thrilling description of a haunted house by Pliny the Younger. What are you waiting for? Here I want to introduce you to Latin by highlighting its differences from English. When deciding whether to take up a language, understanding its features informs upon your decision.

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The Familiar

Cozy up with your new Latin book effortlessly with the same alphabet as ours. It is like ours with only a few differences, for example no “j” or “w” and “v” is written as “u” and vice versa. A full explanation on pronunciation can be found here. The sound of Latin is very melodic with its long and short vowels. Here is a preview:

The Differences

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English is a very word-rich language. Like a delicious stew, with it we combine many large and small elements to create hearty sentences. Latin is not like this. It uses the least words necessary to say the absolute most. Like a raisin, it packs a punch in the smallest form possible. And so, when translating to and from Latin, it can feel like moving between a grape and a raisin. Imagining the water leaving the grape or putting water into the raisin creates intentionality with each word choice. Students worry about adding too many words in English or they have trepidation over the lack of words in Latin. Regarding the transition as a change in the fruit itself helps.

This transformation happens because Latin is an “inflected language.” This means “the nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs have variable endings that indicate the relationship of the words to each other in a sentence” (Wheelock’s Latin p. xxvi). Think of it this way. English is like an office. Everything stands independently of everything else — the bookcase, the lamp, the laptop, and the chair. Latin is like a briefcase.  The laptop, books, and pens are all together within one portable object. Both are offices of sorts, but they are packaged differently. In English word placement is very important because that conveys meaning and grammar; however, in Latin, since the words carry their own meaning and grammar within the variable endings, you can have fewer words and they are not in a fixed spot within the sentence.

The number one difficulty for English speakers in reading Latin, in my opinion, is word order! This issue directly results from Latin’s inflected nature. Though word order does exist in Latin, it is significantly more fluid than that of English. Students hate to see the direct object first or sentences without a clearly visible pronoun subject. Exposure to lots of Latin cures this, though the student must make the conscious effort to understand that Latin operates significantly different than English. A secondary hiccup finds itself in Latin’s lack of articles (a, an, the) and diminished use of possessive adjectives (my, your, ours, etc). When inflating that raisin, the color of the fruit changes to green. So too, while translating into English the color of the language changes as we add in our own vital elements.

Surveying this here is easier said than done. Time and dedication are required to straddle the complexity of Latin’s inflected system. Motivation sits at the root of that effort. So why Latin?

Why Learn?

1.Your vocabulary will grow. Once you know the root of some our English words, taken from Latin originally, then you will know many more English words instantly. Additionally, your eyes will be open to the components of words you already know. This knowledge will carry into other languages with similar words.

  • Ira (Latin – anger) => irascible, irritated, ire.
  • Dormire (to sleep) => dormitory, to lay dormant.
  • Ducere (to lead) => induction, reduction, production, abduction
  • Exit (English) => exire (to go out) – ex = out; ire = to go
  • Casa (Latin – house) – la casa (Italian – house)
  • Dare (Latin – to give) – дать/dat’ (Russian – to give)

2. You will learn grammar. period. The safety net of fluency is taken away when reading Latin as with any other language. However, as I showed above, Latin has a sophisticated “labeling” system with its inflected nature. Verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs look distinctly different and they are built, instead of merely placed. Navigating this will bring to light the fundamentals of grammar: What is a noun? What is an adverb? How do words “agree” with one another? Moreover, a thorough understanding of Latin’s grammar specifically can provide a head start in the grammar of other languages. For example, compare “to be” in French and Latin below. Other highly inflected languages, such as Greek, Hungarian, or Russian, will come more easily as well.

to be

3. You will read some wonderful writings – literature, pieces of music, engravings, etc. As I preached in the introduction, Latin has something for everyone. The latin library has a rich collection: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/

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Baylor University, Crouch Fine Arts Library, Waco, TX
http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/bu-rarebook/id/13876

Dead?

There is a myth that Latin has taken its last bow. Now it is true that students read classical ancient Latin literature in their classes. However, some amazing people share some real-world Latin! Have a look:

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Watch the video for more information and a look into Latin grammar!

*Veni Vidi Didici – I came. I saw. I learned.

*Column from Volubilis

Remember What You Read: a technique to learn how to digest the important points of any reading

Reading comprehension is not automatic. Helping students with this vital skill, when they are first learning it, can only help them multifold in the future with writing and more difficult readings. When the student considers the information within a text to be meaningless, create a story connecting those facts!

Check out the video now:

In late elementary and early middle school, students learn the skill of comprehending what they have read. They are starting to ask themselves, “What are the main points? Which are the supporting facts versus the actual arguments?” Reading is the gateway to writing. While they compose their essays, they will ask themselves the same questions. Learning reading comprehension is an important step in any child’s education. Not every student can read well. Some students struggle to connect the details and myriad of facts they encounter. What do you do?

I am mesmerized by people with an excellent memory. One can demonstrate this asset through the memorizing of decks of cards. I cannot do this and never will, but it got me thinking. Cards themselves are basically meaningless pieces of information. If you can find a way to remember them, then you can carry that over onto other situations.

I gave my students random cards from a deck. I asked them to remember those cards for 30 seconds. They did so easily when I did not talk, but the second round I talked during those entire 30 seconds and they were unsuccessful. Then, when I showed them how to make the random cards into a story, the students were able to remember the cards for any length of time within the lesson.

Here is an example:in video slides.003
Jack = The jack
Loves = The heart suit
To ace = Ace
Irish = The clubs suit
5 = 5
Higher = the spades suit (it looks like an up arrow)

After this, I want to hone the skill of story telling, with that story lasting only a sentence or two. I give my students random facts and ask them to connect them into a story. We must concentrate on this, because a story that does not connect properly will be harder to remember. If I say, “A man runs down the street and sees a boy,” now I must remember him running and seeing the boy, which is more work. I can tweak the story somewhat…. “A man runs and almost trips over a boy sitting in the street.” Now I have a bond between the man and the boy. You cannot have the man tripping without the boy in the street. Many times I will give the students random pieces of information in order for them to practice making meaningful connections.

Here is an example:in video slides.005
I make the story and also reinforce items: an old man with an old and a $12 ring for a 12 year-old granddaughter.

Lastly, we need to apply this to an actual reading assignment. I will ask the students to read the passage to themselves and then ask me about any words they do not know. Then we will go over it together to make sure they understand the words and passage 100%. Now we employ the story-telling technique in order to keep track of: the main argument, something in parallel or conflicting, and one example.

Here is an example:in video slides.007A mother goes shopping with her teenage, ninja son. He says, “Mom, all my friends are wearing black! I want this shirt.” She responds, “We are just regular farmers. You should dress normally. I like this shirt more.” Though inauthentic it captures the main points in a funny and unexpected way. (text original source here)

Stories are more potent and useful when they are weird, funny, and unexpected. The goal of the story is to digest and install the information without making your mind work even harder to remember even more. As you move through a reading, you can employ this technique as you go. Instead of trying to remember what happened two paragraphs up, just review the story going on in your mind.

They are learning a skill with this, not merely a method. They are connecting facts over and over. With time, the inventive and strange stories slip away and what remains is the ability to keep track of and connect information within a reading.

Everyone will have different stories and they may see them as a movie in their mind or just more text. This is adaptable to all kinds of learners because it is completely individualized. Making the short story serves as a vehicle to remember and digest what the student has read. Try it today!

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You teach with what? 6 Apps Vital for Teaching Online.

“Paperless” is the hot word right now. Some want to save the planet and others want to see the bottom of their desks once and a while. Striving for a paperless work experience came to me through a more practical route. Thousands of miles between myself and my students necessitated finding some virtual alternatives.

Already there are amazing virtual schools with great resources to go along with them. But what do independent online teachers do? I have tried and tested a hoard of applications and services, and here are the ones I use daily! This is not sponsored. All opinions are my own.

My first draft excluded this paragraph all together because it is about something we all take for granted…technology itself. I have a MacBook Air. I run High Sierra macOS. Furthermore, I use an iPad Pro 10.5” with an Apple Pencil, the latter of which is a recent addition to my technological family. I operate my computer and tablet in tandem. Like a good dance team, I cannot tell when one starts and the other ends!

Clock (Free)
Though a basic app, it is indispensable. I keep track of different timezones. As I travel over state lines and outside the country, it is vital to have a place I can trust for the correct time. That way I am never late for a lesson. At the beginning of each writing lesson, my students always write for 15 minutes, so I whip out my timer. We all tell ourselves we can watch the clock and timers are superfluous, but the reality is that we get distracted. I set the timer so that I can focus on teaching and not watching clocks. Occasionally, I play games with my students. At that time, I use the stopwatch.

Skype/Google Hangouts (Free)
These services allow me to carry out the lesson as a video chat. There are many options within this genre of app. I prefer and primarily use Skype. I keep my students within a contact list to find them easily. During the call, the text chat column stays open on the right, while I converse within the video column on the left. I primarily use “share screen” to display my virtual board. The older version of Skype (Version 7.58) supplies all my needs; the newest update took away some key features.

Google Calendar (Free)
Not for personal use, I use this only to diligently list my lessons. I keep each student within their own calendar. I share them individually with my students and also with their guardians (if applicable). What I write there is binding, and it keeps everyone accountable and on track.

BaiBoard (Free)
In short, this is my virtual whiteboard. I utilize this as an old-fashioned board with some modern twists. Pictures and diagrams can be dragged onto the screen directly. I can type and write freehand. Lines, circles, and squares are available to me. There are good color options to choose from — black, dark blue, light blue, green, purple, red, and yellow. BaiBoard is a white canvas for me to share and impart whatever I need.

GoodNotes ($8)
I utilize this in the same fashion as BaiBoard, only on my iPad instead of computer. I freehand everything within this app and can draw more intricately.

Notability ($10)
My own personal folder and notebook, where I keep all my textbooks, handouts, assignments and notes.

Quick Tip – Use templates!
I learned to write in cursive in third grade. Instead of using a ruler, my teacher had a mechanical device that held three pieces of chalk evenly spaced and perfectly straight. She glided it across the board with the ease akin to water sliding off an umbrella. What a time and hassle saver! Why reinvent the wheel? I bring this into my online teaching. I use templates for the board layouts I regularly employ. This is particularly useful in Latin, though English sentence diagrams can be made into a template as well. Don’t forget to keep these in a very easily accessible folder for quick access.

Don’t work harder, work smarter. Technology opens the world and shrinks limitations. I hope these apps will transform your virtual teaching experience!

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