I've just finished up the first two weeks of this semester's English Skills - an intensive, four-week mega module for new CCHS students covering the basics of mechanics and writing styles they'll need to be successful at CCHS. We talk about semicolons and parallel structure, 3.8 paragraphs and 5 paragraph essays, presentation skills and close reading.
One of the foundational elements of writing at CCHS is the 3.8: a paragraph with eight sentences covering three different topics. It's foundational here because this paragraph helps students develop thesis statements, understand how to use specific facts to support a thesis, and practice organizing ideas effectively. Teachers in all subjects use the 3.8 as a go-to quick response, so it's important for students to be confident writing them well.
Here's an example of a 3.8 I was given last week by one of our new students, Ehlana. This paragraph stood out to me because, besides effectively stating an opinion on a topic and giving three reasons to support that opinion, she weaves imagery and voice throughout the eight sentences. I dare you to read it and not picture a light breeze rustling through aspen leaves!
Of the Seasons
It is my opinion that Autumn is the best season of the year because the weather is nice, the world is filled with colour, and you can spend time with your friends once again. Fall is amazing; with the earth tilted away from the sun, hot summers turn to cool days. The sweaty tank tops are discarded and more comfortable sweaters donned. With the cold nights, leaves begin to change into a rainbow of colour. In the mountains, it can be a sea of reds and gold crunching under your feet. With the colours in the air, we go back to school. Our friends greet us in the hall while leaves continue to fall. With perfect weather, golden trees, and laughing friends, fall is easily the best season of the year.
Last week, a handful of students participated in an experimental module: using LEGO to inspire a story. (Ok, sure, since this is my first year teaching at CCHS, most of my modules are experiments - but this one broke the mold more than most.)
This module's inspiration came from an episode of the podcast Note to Self. I love this podcast because it is full of discussions about how to use technology in today's world and still retain some humanity.
The episode in question, "Why You Should Care about LEGO and Creativity" (you can listen to it here), questioned whether LEGO kits are ruining kids' creativity... and if so, what impact that has on our future in a society where creativity and innovation are essential to most jobs.
Listening to this episode, I wondered how my students would answer this question about LEGO kits - and I wondered what would happen if I gave students a bunch of LEGOs, let them play with them for a bit, and then use their creations as the basis for a short story.
And that's what we did! The students, no surprise, loved having the opportunity to play with LEGOs in class. They also had interesting responses to the Note to Self episode. In short: kits are great because they give you cool pieces you don't get in the regular bins, but the point is that you get the kit and integrate the pieces into your collection at large.
So in a way, LEGO kits don't hamper creativity, they expand your creative possibilities. But, as with most things in life, it comes down to what you, the builder, brings to the project. Your creativity will be as limited or expansive as you allow it to be.
Check out the LEGO module page on this site for more information about how the module was set up, and to see pictures of all the creations students came up with and used as the basis for their stories.
How did the stories turn out? Let me tell you, I was so impressed. I decided to stretch the students in a new way with this assignment. Rather than writing out a story as we usually do, I gave students tools to build characters, setting, and plot, but then talked with them about oral storytelling techniques and asked them to prep their story to tell the group, rather than polishing it in writing. So they planned, performed a "rough draft" with a partner, and then performed the final product.
Here's a sample of one story, told by Eli (premise: meteorite hits Earth, causing a pandemic... one survivor finds himself running from other survivors who are out to get him) -
Pretty great storytelling, no?
All in all, it was a fascinating module. I can tell the students were pushed with the idea of telling a story in front of other people, rather than writing it down behind the safety of a computer screen. We don't practice the "speaking and listening" C-TACHs (standards) as much as we address the writing standards, so this was a valuable exercise for the students - and helpful for me to see what worked and what can be improved!
I have a feeling this isn't the last time LEGOs will make an appearance in English modules at CCHS.
Hello! Christine here, your neighborhood CCHS English teacher. In the coming months, I'll be using this space to share the inside scoop on our English class and modules, and perhaps even to share samples of student work. So stay tuned!
In the meantime, check out this fascinating podcast series from Note to Self called "Bored and Brilliant", which explores our addiction to phones and why setting them down to give us space to get bored could just be the best thing for us and our creativity.
Hmm. Cultivating boredom... sounds like a great topic for an English module!
Christine Bailey: teacher of English, user of fountain pens, fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and advocate of parallel structure.