If your school or public library is looking for some ideas for teen programming, the following sessions from National Council of Teachers of English’s (NCTE) recent annual conference are bound to inspire you. While most of the presenters focused on older teens, their programs can also be adapted for middle schoolers. And there are many more sessions that can be explored on NCTE’s 2012 website, such as But I Hate Poetry, Using Signal Words in Graphic Novels for Sequence and Cause/Effect, or Ah Ha Allusions!—Pop Culture Allusions & Dystopian Literature, to name just a few.
Words Are Delicious: Food Writing in the Classroom
I bet this was the only NCTE session in which each attendee was given an Oreo! Presenter April Brannon, from Cal State Fullerton, started off the session with a discussion of poems about food, featuring Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Tomatoes and Donald Hall’s Eating the Pig, and how these poems can be used to boost students’ reading and writing skills. Both student-teacher and individual student work was showcased, including Eating the Chicken Nuggets, inspired by Hall’s aforementioned poem. With an Oreo in hand, each member of the audience was asked to contribute a simile, metaphor, alliterative phrase, personification, image, or hyperbole which Brannon then used to create an ode to the iconic cookie. Brannon was followed by Elle Yarborough from Northern Essex (MA) Community College, who focused on developing literacy skills by investigating food. Attendees were asked to watch “The Soup Nazi” episodes from Seinfeld and read Molly O’Neill’s essay “The Soup Man of 55th Street” (from the New York Cookbook [Workman, 1992]), comparing the various ways in which Al Yeganeh, the real-life owner of the famous soup restaurant, was characterized on the popular sit-com. Yarborough also talked about how she uses road-food writers Jane and Michael Stern’s wonderful piece “The Lobster Roll Honor Roll” (from the August 1994 issue of Gourmet magazine) as an example of investigative food writing. The Sterns combine history, culture, and social norms in the retelling of their quest to find Maine’s best lobster roll. You might want to ask your students to select a local culinary favorite, research its origins and variations across the region, and even gather recipes to produce their own food writing. All of these activities can easily be converted to library programming for teens and tweens.
Inspiring Readers with the Newest Young Adult Literature Winners
How many booktalks can be squeezed into about an hour? A lot, as proved by presenters Jennifer Walsh (Forsyth Middle School, Ann Arbor, MI), Daria Plumb (Riverside Academy, Dundee, MI), and Jennifer Buehler (St Louis University, MO). This group, chaired by Teri Lesesne (Sam Houston University, TX), created a grid to keep track of the number of awards that 2011 titles have received during the past year, then they organized the titles according to the number of award lists they have each appeared on. It was no surprise to hear which two titles appeared on the most lists: Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races each appeared on six awards lists. The presenters were able to race through 20 titles, halfway through the three award lists, before the closing bell rang. Their incredibly useful and informative list of awards and titles can be found on a handout on NCTE’s 2012 website.
Learning Lessons from YA War Literature
Session chair, author, and Brigham Young University English professor Chris Crowe gave an excellent overview of the types of YA literature that can be used in the classroom to help readers connect with those who have lived through a war. Jen Bryant, an award-winning novelist, poet, and biographer, spoke about war’s effects on society and the people “left behind,” and explained how she writes about those experiences. For example, in her verse novel, The Trial (Knopf, 2004), the growing fear and distrust among Americans of Germany as World War II approached became a major factor in the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was accused of the murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr. In Bryant’s novel The Fortune of Carmen Navarro (Knopf, 2010), a high school dropout and a cadet from Valley Forge Military Academy and a long-standing military family stumble into a romance, as the war in Iraq plays out in background, which puts an additional strain on their relationship.
Author Dean Hughes embeds his readers directly into the battlefield in his war novels. In Hughes’s Soldier Boys (Antheneum, 2001), two young men—a German and an American—come to understand each other’s motives for fighting in World War II as they see their friends and colleagues die around them. Ricky Ward thinks that going to war will solve his problems with his violent father and dismissive girlfriend, but readers of Search and Destroy (Antheneum, 2005) discover that the Vietnam War is scarier and more complicated than anything Ricky has left at home. Visit the NCTE 2012 session site for an excellent bibliography of YA war literature and more from the authors.
Igniting the 21st-Century Spark with Big Ideas and Technology
If you’ve been thinking about using technology and books to connect with classroom teachers and teens, look no further. This NCTE session featured three dynamic presenters who have incorporated technology into their literature lessons to enhance writing and comprehension skills. Catherine Reeves, a University of Wyoming grad student, shared Hyperstudio presentations that she created to teach Sylvia Plath’s confessional poetry. Reeves’s student not only had to master the technology, they nad to research images from the 1950s to use in their own presentations. And that’s not all: they also had to write their own confessional poems and create a Hyperstudio presentation to support it. At Montana’s Arlee High School, kids in English teacher Anna Baldwin’s multicultural literature class created a YouTube video entitled “Perma Red: From Our Vision,” which includes students’ photographs, along with selected music, and text excerpts from Debra Magpie Earling’s Perma Red. Baldwin also created a teacher’s guide for the video project as part of her entry for the PBS Teacher Innovator awards, which recognize innovative preK-12 classroom educators, media specialists, technology coordinators and homeschool educators who use digital media to enhance student learning. . The final presenter, Tiffany Rehbein, an English teacher from East High School in Cheyenne, WY, described the process she uses to help students create book trailers, which are shown on the school’s TV station. The kids’ videos not only showcase students’ works—they also encourage their classmates to read. Rehbein’s book-trailer resource guide and checklist can be found on the NCTE session hand-out site. This session was chaired by Beverly Ann Chin, Director of the English Teaching Program at the University of Montana at Missoula.
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