Category Archives: Grade 10

Tweets like Shakespeare

Go back and read the title again, but this time, to the tune of “Moves like Jagger.”

My grade 10’s are reading Macbeth. But not in the way you’d think. It’s much cooler then the Macbeth you may remember reading in high school. I mean, look at this guy:


He’s a strong fighter. He’s a ruthless King. He’s power hungry. He is owning that purple dress/cape ensemble. And he’s a little bit crazy.

There’s three versions of the Macbeth graphic novel: original, modern, and quick text. The original is, well, Shakespeare’s original version of the play. The modern text is an updated version, and the quick text is the bare essentials of the story. All three texts have the exact same graphics – the only thing that changes is the speech bubbles.

The students started reading the original version, because I wanted them to at least try it out. After a few scenes, they could switch to the modern text if they were having trouble understanding the original. I didn’t hand out many quick texts: I saved those for students who were really struggling. Most students switched to and stuck with the modern text. A few of them thought the original was easy to understand, so they stuck with that. And surprising to me, a few students requested the original play in its full text, rather than the graphic version.

Before reading the play, we discussed the idea of control, and I presented them with the provocative statement (more on that in a later post), “You have no control.” In small groups, students brainstormed all of the things they have no control of. Answers included: disease, weather, parents, curfew, friends, leg hair, acne, the sun, the moon, assignments at school, work hours, blood type, and itches. We discussed this a bit, had some laughs, and talked about the conceptions of ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’, and who controls ours. I would have liked to branch the discussion into topics like ‘who controls society?’, ‘how do we give up control?’, and ‘how do power and control relate to one another?’ – but the bell rang.

The next day, we reviewed our previous discussion, and I gave them a handout that listed different statements that touch on themes of Macbeth, and they wrote whether they agreed or disagreed – things like “women are more frail and delicate than men”, “people who say they know the future are fake”, “the saying ‘what goes around comes around’ is true”, and “sometimes good people do bad things”. When they finished, we went through them and shared our answers, discussing our reasons why we agreed or disagreed. I announced to students that I was going to hand out the Macbeth texts, and they all groaned. Imagine their surprise, and my joy, when I pulled out the graphic novels. It is truly a satisfying moment when a 15 year old boy gives a small nod and smile at a text, declaring, “This doesn’t look so bad.”

A word to those of you who are experiencing heart palpitations because I did not force students to read and analyze Shakespeare’s original play, including matching quotes to characters who said them and notes and lectures on the lines ‘unsex me here’: Do you want students to be able to translate lines and regurgitate quotes, or do you want them to actually like the play? You see, I think we’ve been teaching it backwards. We force all students to do an in depth study of the play in its original form, hoping some end up liking it. And some do. But most walk away with a bitter taste in their mouth, missing the beauty and lessons of the play because they were too busy hating it. What if we taught the play in a variety of forms – parallel texts, graphic novels – focusing on the themes and lessons of the play rather than the language? From my experience, most end up liking it. And some of them are able to translate lines and regurgitate quotes. And guess what – it’s the same handful of students in both scenarios who are able to read, translate, understand, and enjoy Shakespeare. So try out some other text forms.  It’s a beautiful thing to see students who declared they HATED Shakespeare say,  “Woah, did you get to scene 3 yet?” and “Check this out!”. And yes, I did still call attention to the most famous lines of the play, including ‘unsex me here.’

Students mostly read on their own, and at the end of each Act of the play, they completed this sheet:


We did the first one together, but after that students worked at their own pace. The summary  and themes/evidence sections are pretty self explanatory. I’m sure I don’t need to clarify this to you, but I sure did need to clarify for the students that the ‘character snapshot’ section is not for them to draw the character, but to describe him/her. The bubble with the Facebook ‘like’ thumb is for them to write something they liked about the Act. For the tweet box, I told them to pretend they were Shakespeare and had just finished writing the Act: What would he Tweet? I think this was my favorite box.

photo 4 photo 3 photo 2photo 5


Is it still cheating if I don’t get caught?

That’s the question we sought to answer in Grade 10 English. We read a book, of that title, by Bruce Weinstein. He’s the ethics guy. No really. That’s his registered trademark. Check him out.

The first 30 pages or so of the book is Bruce explaining ethics, myths of ethics, and his own 5 “Life Principles.” I really enjoyed teaching this mini-unit on ethics, because it’s a topic that I’ve previously shied away from, for one big reason. Ethics and morality are deeply personal. Of course we have a common standard of ethics, but beyond those, what we believe is right and wrong – and why – is varied from one person to the next. If all teachers began teaching their own personal set of beliefs, students would be confused and teachers might be upset with each other, not to mention parents wondering why their child was coming home with a certain idea that may differ from what was being taught in the home. However, we also don’t want to go the other way and have a classroom devoid of any ethical teaching, and in a lot of ways, it’s impossible NOT to teach your own set of values in some way. The key is balance. And the ironic thing about it is that the best way to find balance is to explicitly teach ethics. When you teach it directly, students learn how to recognize society’s ethics,  what shapes and influences those ethics, and how they are learning and developing their own moral code of ethics.

We read the first 30ish pages together, discussing the author’s ideas and where students agreed and disagreed with him. The rest of the book are questions that teens have asked, and Bruce giving his answer according to the 5 Life Principles he explained at the start of the book. It seemed to me that it was a great time for a contract, as some of the students were really passionate about the topic and had a lot to express, while others just wanted to know what they had to do to pass. I’ve only done a contract based project once, as a novel study, and was pleased with the results, so thought I’d try it on a smaller scale.

Ethics Project Contract

Is It Still Cheating_ reading journal

I’ve already made a few tweaks and changes, as one of the difficult things in a contract based project is to ensure there is balance between the tasks for each percentage (and ensuring there aren’t any loopholes of ‘shoot for a 90 and do half the work and still get a 60 but it was less work than a 60’). If you’re wondering what the “Answer 2 ethical questions” task is: I had students write down two ethical questions. We put them in a bucket and then to complete that task, students drew two questions and answered them. My favourite question was, “Is stealing a peanut from Safeway wrong?”, because students would read it and laugh, and then I’d say “Well, is it stealing?”, and they’d say, “No”, and I’d say, “Iiiiissss iiiiitttt?” and give them a really high-eyebrowed look, and they’d look at the question again and say, “Noooooo?”, and I’d say, “What if I stole a whole bag of peanuts, is that stealing?”, and they’d say, “Yea”, and I’d say, “Well isn’t stealing just stealing?”, and I’d tilt my head with just one eyebrow up and back away to leave them think about it. I literally did that to like eight students. It wasn’t so much about them agreeing with me as it was to get them to think with their critical ethics hats as opposed to their whimsical peanut thieving hats.


Tis the Season to be Challenged

This is one of my favorite units to teach. Even more so now that I’ve taught it and made improvements for this time around.


Today was brainstorm day. In groups of three/four, students went to six posters with the challenge titles and wrote down as many ideas as they could in one minute. Some of the standouts:

Fears to overcome:

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Habits to quit:

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Raising awareness about:

photo 1

There is not enough being said about illegal imorgrants!

New things to try:

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Good self awareness on the “practice spelling” comment.

Something you’ve always wanted to do:

photo 3

I think it’s going to be a fun last few weeks of the semester.

A Few Updates

I should start by letting you know how the Grade 10 presentations went. I think it was great. Not because they all did an amazing job, but because they all learned something.

Most of the presentations were adequate. They made a Prezi or Animoto, as they had been instructed to. {One group did end up using PowerPoint, as they had been instructed not to do. But it didn’t go very well for them, and they afterwards acknowledged that they liked the other student’s Prezi and Animoto presentations better.} They knew the basics of their subject. They had a few pictures. It was average.

There was one really amazing presentation. He was articulate, he knew his subject inside and out, he presented the information in his own words, he was confident, made eye contact, and answered all the questions he was asked. The really amazing part was not that my teaching partner and I noticed all of this, it was that the students noticed all of this. When all the presentations were over, I made a three column chart on the board: excellent, average, and developing. We talked about what separates an average presentation from an excellent one and one that is still developing.

The students nailed it. We talked about the excellent presentation we saw, and what made it that way. The student with the excellent presentation even talked about how he got there – he used more than one source when researching, he learned the information rather than just copy/pasting, and he practiced. It was a great moment, because the students really listened to what their peer had to say and they saw the payoff of his hard work.

We’ve since started a novel study. I’m trying something new with it, and gave out these contracts.

Novel study contract

I told the students it’s legally binding.

They are reading: The Hobbit, Miracle in the Andes, The Hunger Games, The Chrysalids, and Dracula. Not all of those. They got to choose. I’m reading all of those.

In Grade 9, we are continuing on with our “Digital Citizenship” unit, which I think I will eventually post as its own page. The other day, we read this article:

“Your Brain on Computers” 

And this one.

“Trouble Sleeping?”

Keep in mind, this was after many lessons on educational uses of technology, and the point of reading these articles was not to condemn technology, but to raise student’s awareness of some issues surrounding technology. After reading the articles and discussing them, we talked about being too dependent on technology, or even addicted to it. We talked about spending a day “in the dark ages”, i.e. without their cell phones. They chose if they wanted to give up their phone for English class or for the whole day.  Result:

Some of them were getting sweaty and shaky and touching their pocket a lot. And the basket was flashing and vibrating. But they made 54% more eye contact with me. And that’s progress.

Research and Presenting

We are doing research projects in Grade 10 English. Here is how 300% of students approach a research project:

– On the internet, google “google” to find google. (Not kidding. They do this. They google “gogle” too.)
– Type in research subject
– Go to first website, most likely wikipedia
– Open PowerPoint
– Start to copy and paste information into slides

I explained to students that I could probably train a monkey to transfer information from one place to another. It’s a lateral move that requires no thinking and no learning. So with this research project, the goal has been to try to break this pattern and insert some critical thinking and creativity into researching.

Step one: Let them know that (shocker!) not all websites are reliable. I co-teach period one English, and as my co-teacher put it, you don’t want to be getting the information for your research project off some sweat pant clad basement dweller’s blog. (I may or may not be wearing sweats in my basement….but that’s irrelevant). It’s fun to illustrate this point with a few unreliable websites that look pretty legit, such as:

Step two: Teach them some ways to determine if a website is reliable or not.
See: resource cred check

Step three: Get them to answer all the questions on the resource credibility check sheet with the websites they’ve found on their topic.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well they took to checking their websites! A few students even found that their websites were not credible – or as they put it, were “written by sweat pants guy.”

Another step to try to prevent too much brainless copying and pasting is to limit what presentation methods students can use.

Why You Can’t Use PowerPoint

Animoto is great because students really have to pick out their main ideas and say thing succinctly. Prezi is great because it’s similar enough to PowerPoint that students who are afraid of something new feel comfortable using it, but different enough that they can’t mindlessly copy and paste. That’s the hope anyway! I’ll let you know how it goes…..and hopefully we don’t end up with any presentations about dog island.

Final Projects

Over the last few days, the students presented their projects for the “Overcome a Challenge” assignment. Most of them were pretty good. Some of them were outstanding. Two of my faves.

Sleeping better –

Getting better grades – Learning how to get good grades and a brochure

 The students gave me permisison to show their work on my blog, but I’m going to have to ask that you view but don’t save. Thanks.

To end the project, I wanted to try something fun and cool, so the students planned out a photo that would represent the challenge they overcame. They also chose a quality they felt they needed in order to overcome the challenge to include in the picture. Krista came in to take them. Here’s a sample:

What a great way to end the unit!

My Challenge

As mentioned previously, I like to do certain assignments alongside the students. Since this is my first time with this assignment, I thought it would be good for me to do it, so that I could pick out any difficulties or errors  in it, as well as see how difficult/easy it would be to complete the way I set it up. And to show the students an example (or sometimes a non-example).

I read “Ultra Marathon Man” by Dean Karnazes. Great book. I also found two websites and interviewed our school’s teacher-librarian. I found that some students were really struggling with the “Step Two: Supplement” handout, so I made an example to show them.


After gathering all that information, it was time to make a brochure. I really tried to instill in the students that the point of doing all this research was to synthesize the data into their handout and presentation: to take bits and pieces of what they learned from all four sources and put it together in their own words. Easier said then done. Students will more often then not type their query into google, go to the first website, and start copying and pasting. To them, “in your own words” means you change some of the words or their order. It’s not real learning. It takes little to no skill. After having a discussion about it, most of the students understood what they needed to do, but it’s no easy task – synthesizing is a dying skill, being stabbed to death by misuse of google and the internet in general. I think that next time around, I will show a non-example of a brochure: one that I made entirely by copying and pasting, to compare to the one made using the text, interview, and 2 websites to make.  Here’s my example brochure from this time around:


Next was attempting to overcome my challenge. I ran a few times and worked myself up to 8k. One day after school decided to run indoors due to the rain. I wanted to see how far I could go. Answer:

That’s in miles. :)

I tried again the next week, to run 11k this time, but my feet started hurting so badly around 8 I had to stop. My foot soreness in conjunction with talking to the teacher-librarian led me to buying some new runners. I went to a local shop and bought these:

I tried them out on the treadmill the other day, and I think they’ll work famously. They feel like a hug on my foot. The salesman told me that I have to break them in really slowly, though, because they force you to use different muscles when running, and it takes time to get used to. What that means is that I won’t be able to run 15k in the next few weeks like I had wanted to. So technically, I didn’t complete my challenge. I think that’s a good thing, however, because it shows the students that even an attempt at a challenge is worth something. And I’m still going to try to work up to 15 eventually.

I used the website XtraNormal to make my presentation. Before showing it, the class went through the criteria for presentations. We watched the video and analyzed it according to the criteria – a “critique the piece” activity. I think it really helped them understand the creativity that can come into play for presentations, and how to put it all together. Plus I had a lot of fun making it. Enjoy!!

Preparing to Present

Most of the students are finished reading their non-fiction text, doing their internet research, and interviewing someone. They are also in the midst of overcoming their challenge. We are at the point of building a presentation (step four on the handout for those of you following along). In class yesterday, I showed the students some presentation options.

Glogster – for making posters online. You can upload pictures, link websites, and add text.

Prezi – powerpoint on crack.

Xtranormal – make your own video with cartoons and robot voices!

Lucid Chart – So simple to use that instead of sarcastically asking someone if they need a flow chart, I’ll just make one.

There’s of course Microsoft Powerpoint, which can be a really effective way to present, but is often misused. Show this video to your students to start a discussion. (There’s different versions of the video out there, some longer and some shorter, so search around and find one that suits your needs).

There’s also Publisher if the student wanted to make a brochure as their how-to guide. I would suggest you print out a sample brochure so that students understand which is the front flap, inside flap, etc. when they’re making theirs.

After going through these options, students excitedly got to building their presentations using at least one of the above options. In blog world. In reality, they stared at me until one student said, “Can I just make a poster?”

After more explaining, and showing them with a bit more detail how to use the websites, a few of them signed up for a gloster or prezi account and are giving that a try, and many warmed up to a brochure. Sometimes I assume that since students have cell phones and Facebook accounts, they’re all technology guru’s who love to do things on computers, which isn’t necessarily true. Some of them are intimidated by technology, or frustrated because when they do try new things, they experience technical difficulties due to computers not loading, the internet being down, or not having an email address to register with. What I really wanted to do was urge them to try something different, and some are. It’s the small victories. I made you a flow chart.


When I planned this unit, I pictured the students receiving the assignment with smiles and excitement, then hurriedly signing out books from the library, reading them silently from bell to bell, and maybe even breaking out into a coreographed song and dance about overcoming challenges.

That did not happen. Students begrudgingly came to the library and found a book, some of them after a significant amount of whining. The past few days in class have been a mixture of them reading, daydreaming, whining, and chatting. Perhaps it’s the rainy weather, perhaps it’s the time of year; whatever it is, the students have not quite bought in with excitement yet.

I decided after a day or two of their vacant stares at their books that they needed some more guidance. So I made the following handout:

Step Two Supplement

The hope of this handout is to give the students more structure and guidance. The difficulty of an inquiry unit is akin to teaching a child to ride a bike: you need to let go at just the right time. Too soon, and they’ll fall, too late, and they won’t have learned to do it without you. That being said, I’ve never taught a child to ride a bike, so I don’t have the timing of it or of inquiry units quite right yet. I figured this handout would be like training wheels – hopefully, with it they will be able to use their time in class effectively. 

I did two things this past weekend: I read my book and I ran. This is the book I’m reading for my challenge:

I’m on page 165, and so far I have come to the conclusion that Dean is not human. He ran this…

…and this…

The only morsel of motivation I have to run that far would be to be able to eat a whole cheesecake. I ran 8k this weekend. That merits at least a slice.

The Assignment

Now that you know the inspiration for the assignment, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the thing. Before I share the assignment with you, let’s go over the rules:

1. You are allowed to use assignments I post.
2. Before using said assignments, you must give students a lengthy speech on one of the following topics: littering, recycling, exercising, or “kids these days.”
3. If someone sees the assignment and offers you a promotion/money/cookie, you must forward the cookie to me or buy me a gift with the money. Promotion is yours to keep, but if I someday come to you needing a favour, illicit or otherwise, I expect no hesitation or need for explanation.  

That being said, here’s the assignment:


For anyone wondering, I aligned this assignment with these curricular outcomes: CRA10.4, CCA10.1c, CCA10.2

We started step one last week. I gave each student a duotang and the assignment to put into it. I briefly explained that in this unit they will overcome a challenge, and we went through the assignment package together. They were less than enthused. Had I at this point stood at the front of the room and led the students in a traditional group brainstorm, I would have lost them. They were tired and unmotivated. Before giving it to students, I showed this assignment to two wonderful consultants, who will henceforth be know collectively as E.T., and T suggested a carousel for the brainstorming activity, which was genius. This involved writing the six brainstorming areas (habits to quit, habits to start, fears to overcome, etc.) on large poster board and putting them up around my room (and some in the hallway, just to shake things up). Students picked a partner and each partnership got a marker. They each started at a different poster and I gave them thirty seconds to write down as many ideas as they could, and then we switched posters. Students were excited – some were actually jumping up and down and shouting out ideas as their partner wrote rapidly on the sheet. I timed the students and yelled ‘go’ and ‘stop’ as gameshow-hosty as I could. When we were done, we all sat down and went through the posters, and they wrote down (on their handouts) at least five ideas for each area.

This is so much more than I would have gotten had I stood at the front and asked them for ideas. I’m a firm believer in doing things alonside the students when appropriate, and for this assignment, it is. The challenge I’ve selected is to run 15k. I’ll let you know how it goes. And yes, yellow marker is going to attempt to quit pot.