January 2019 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

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English Language Arts

January 2019

In this issue:

ELA Framework Survey

ELA Framework Homepage

Calling all ELA teachers in Oklahoma! We want to hear your thoughts on the ELA Curriculum Framework, the resource website developed by Oklahoma teachers for help with implementing the Oklahoma Academic Standards. Whether you use the Framework or not, your feedback is valuable to us. We will use the data from this survey in an upcoming presentation. Please take this brief survey by the end of the month. You also have the option to submit your email at the end of the survey to be entered into a drawing for some books:

  • Everything's an Argument
  • America Now: Short Readings from Recent Periodicals
  • 50 Essays

Regional Meetings: Chickasha & Woodward

The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Office of Curriculum and Instruction is excited to announce free professional development workshops for the 2018-19 school year. These workshops are designed to support educators with effective instructional strategies aligned to the Oklahoma Academic Standards and are perfect for educators looking to identify a new Professional Learning (PL) Focus or deepen expertise in an existing PL Focus.

Thank you to everyone who attended the secondary ELA regional meetings in Oklahoma City and Broken Arrow! Two new ELA workshop dates are now available:

This professional development opportunity is an all-day session. In the morning, attendees will explore depth of knowledge in secondary ELA. In the afternoon, attendees will explore aligning curriculum to the ELA standards.

You can view and register for upcoming workshops on this SDE website.

Poet Alberto Ríos


Alberto Ríos, the state poet laureate of Arizona, will be in Oklahoma City in April as part of Oklahoma City University's annual poet speaker series. Ríos will be giving two poetry readings, free and open to the public, followed by book signings. School groups are welcome at both events.

Kerr-McGee Auditorium
Meinders School of Business
Oklahoma City University
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

  • 10-11 AM, informal reading & a discussion of writing process
  • 8-9 PM, formal reading  

Alberto Ríos is an endowed Professor of English and Director of the Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University-Tempe. He has published ten books and chapbooks of original poetry, three short story collections, and a memoir. Among his notable poetry books are:

  • The Dangerous Shirt, his most recent book
  • The Theater of the Night2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award-winner 
  • The Smallest Muscle in the Human BodyNational Book Award finalist 
  • Whispering to the Fool Wind, Walt Whitman Award-winner 

More details available on the event website. Here is a poem from Ríos:

poem by Rios

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Grammar

When it comes to grammar, are you a prescriptivist or a descriptivist? A prescriptivist follows and enforces all grammar rules, no matter what. These teachers might cover their students' essays in red ink, marking grammar, usage, and mechanical errors. Prescriptivists are the reason people get nervous around English teachers and say, "Don't judge my grammar or spelling." On the other hand, a descriptivist describes what language is doing and how it is evolving. Descriptivists don't get hung up on enforcing grammar rules. These teachers might still cover their students essays in ink, but instead of grammar corrections, descriptivists focus more on the content and provide feedback on the ideas and development of the essay.

One example of the prescriptivist vs. descriptivist approach is the use of singular they. Here's a sentence: Each student should get out their notebook. Are your eyes burning? Perhaps you noticed that the word Each makes student singular, and therefore requires a singular possessive pronoun--his or her--but the example sentence uses their, a plural possessive pronoun. The rise of singular they has been happening for years. It is more and more common in speech patterns, and now it is filtering into the written word.

Additionally, the use of singular they is more inclusive of all kinds of people. NCTE released a position statement in 2018 about gender and language, mentioning the importance of using singular they. Recently, the Oxford English Dictionary and the Associated Press adopted singular they.

For more information about prescriptivism and descriptivism, read this short speech found on the PBS website.

comic re: teaching grammar

Book Love Grants

The Book Love Foundation is dedicated to teachers who inspire a love of reading. They provide classroom libraries comprised of hundreds of books carefully chosen to meet teenagers where they are and lead them to the deep rewards of reading. They put those books into the hands of teachers who demonstrate a commitment to rich reading lives for all students.

Teachers can apply for a Book Love grant starting this month. The link also includes applicant requirements.

Book Love Foundation logo

One of the 2018 Book Love grantees was Oklahoma City teacher Sara Marin. She is deeply committed to her ninth grade students at Santa Fe South High School. Students read every day and lead book talks. Sara also confers with students every day to encourage, challenge, and teach strategies, so that they can more deeply engage with their reading. Her small library has been built on thrift store titles; however, 100% of her students use her library. Sara has created a culture where reading is a priority in an urban charter school with no library and no librarian. She began her career in Teach for America where she discovered a love for teenagers and has now finished a master’s degree in education. Marin was the first Oklahoma teacher to receive a Book Love grant. For pictures of Sara's classroom library, check out this Google Doc.

Sara Marin with student

Sara Marin confers with one of her freshman students about his reading.

The Slowdown Podcast

Slowdown Podcast logo

Tracy K. Smith, the U. S. Poet Laureate, has a podcast called The Slowdown. Each short episode (about 5 minutes) features an introduction by Smith to a poem she has selected. The website has the full text of each featured poem. The poems are beautiful, accessible, and usable in a secondary English classroom.

Most of the poems are free verse, but I did learn about one new form from the eighth episode: the pentatina. Campbell McGrath switched up the sestina form back in 2012 in Poetry magazine by reducing the stanzas from six lines to five. In addition to Smith, you can also hear McGrath read his pentatina.

Tracy K. Smith will be in Ada, Oklahoma, in April for the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival.

Podcast Challenge

NPR student podcast challenge logo

NPR is sponsoring its first ever Student Podcast Challenge. Students in grades 5-12 are eligible to compete. The podcast only has to be 3 to 12 minutes long. The winners will be featured on the air on NPR. The website for this challenge has handy student and teacher guides, official rules, and more.

The Oklahoma Public School Resource Center in Oklahoma City has a podcast room that teachers and students can use for free if you would like some extra support in this process.

Writing Task Templates

Literacy Design Collaborative

The Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) has a number of resources on their website, including some task templates for two modes of writing: argument and informative. The templates are further broken down into kinds of cognitive demands: definition, description, explanation, analysis, comparison, cause-effect, procedural-sequential, hypothesis-experiment, evaluation, and problem-solution. In addition, the LDC has eleven optional demands to add additional rigor to any of the writing tasks. Finally, rubrics are available for both modes of writing with the following elements scored on a scale from 1 to 4: focus, controlling idea, reading/research, development, organization, conventions, and content understanding. The secondary ELA resources are on pages 6-8 and 15-16 in the PDF.

OKWP Summer Institute

OKWP new logo

The Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Institute will be held in June at the Moore Norman Technology Center in Norman. The application deadline is February 14. There is up to a $1,000 stipend for each participant who completes all the required components of OKWP Summer Institute. (Only 12 stipends will be awarded.)

Start saving your student writing samples now. You will need student samples for your interview and during the Summer Institute. Be sure and save high- and low-ability examples from your writing lessons. Originals are great but copies are fine. At the interview, you will bring your professional vita and some of your student writing samples.

Apply today!

Thunder Creative Contest

Thunder logo

The Oklahoma City Thunder invites Oklahoma students to take part in its annual contest to honor and celebrate Black History Month. The Black Heritage Creative Contest seeks to spark students’ creativity in engaging with black history and honoring black heroes who have been influential to them. 

The contest is open now through Feb. 11 to Oklahoma students in kindergarten through 12th grade, who can enter the contest by submitting an essay, poem or visual arts piece honoring an outstanding individual in black history or an impactful African-American in their life. Entrants are encouraged to employ creativity in their entries, including photography, music, video, art or writing.

“Our Black Heritage Creative Contest is part of the Thunder’s Black History Month celebration, and we look forward to receiving the entries every year,” said Christine Berney, Thunder vice president of Community Relations. “We encourage students of all backgrounds to use their creativity to honor black heroes and show how they impact their lives.”

Winners in each of five age groups will receive $500, four tickets to the Thunder vs. Sacramento Kings game on Feb. 23, recognition at center court prior to the game, an autographed Thunder item and an award plaque. Select entries will be displayed on the concourse at Chesapeake Energy Arena during the Feb. 23 game.

In the past, winners have submitted creative essays, dioramas, musical tributes, drawings, paintings and poetry.

Entries may be submitted online, hand-delivered, or mailed. Deadline is Feb. 11. For more information, including an entry form, visit okcthunder.com/blackheritage.

contest flyer

Film Review Competition

The January contest from Write the World is a film review. Students ages 13-18 are eligible to compete. The prompt is below and more details are at the link. Students could benefit from studying some mentor texts, so I've collected a few for your classroom use:

Write the World green logo
Write the World film review

OKC Memorial Essay Contest

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is currently sponsoring its 18th annual student essay contest. The deadline is January 25, 2019. Cash prizes are given to students who place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. The topics are listed below, and more details are available on the website.

essay contest header5th - 8th grade9th - 12th

Poetry Month Poster

For the first time in twenty-two years, the official National Poetry Month poster will feature a high school student’s winning artwork, selected by judges Debbie Millman, renowned graphic designer, and Academy Chancellor Emeritus Naomi Shihab Nye, and announced in January 2019. The artwork will feature lines of poetry by U. S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. National Poetry Month is April, but you can order your free poster now by completing the online form.

OLA Call for Presentations

OLA logo

The theme of the Oklahoma Reading Association’s 2019 Conference is “Literacy: Envision Possibilities.” The conference committee is looking for teachers, librarians, undergraduate and graduate students, and university faculty to present at our conference on Saturday, April 6, 2019, at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa Campus.  OLA welcomes presentations representing a variety of ideas in the area of literacy and literacy teaching. We would love for you to come share an innovative project or teaching strategy with our participants!

Presentations will be scheduled for 45 minutes in length. Please contact Julie Collins by e-mail at jcollins18@uco.edu for a proposal form. Deadline for receipt of proposals is Tuesday, January 15, 2019. Notification of acceptance will be sent by Friday, February 15, 2019.

Common Lit

book logo

Common Lit has free literary passages with vocabulary, analysis questions, and discussion questions. The library can be searched by grade bands, themes, genres, literary devices, related books, and text sets.

I used the short story "The Man in the Well" as a shared text during one of my regional meetings. I had heard the story on an old episode of This American Life. I was excited to learn that Common Lit had developed some resources to go along with the story. Common Lit helped me out with my lesson planning, and I certainly think you could find it a valuable resource as well.

Check out all of their available genres:

List of genres

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

At the Intersection poem

Venn diagrams are typically used in ELA to compare and contrast two characters, places, ideas, etc. The poet Brian Bilston created this Venn diagram poem entitled "At the Intersection." You can read it three different ways:

  1. the "him" circle + the overlapping area
  2. the overlapping area + the "her" circle
  3. just the overlapping area

Once you have a grasp of this unique poem's structure, try writing a Venn diagram poem of your own.

Reading Quote

"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." ~Ursula K. LeGuin

FlipGrid Video

What are your teaching resolutions for 2019? Is there a professional book you have been meaning to read? Is there a new strategy you want to use? Is there a standard you want to teach more intentionally? Head on over to the ELAOK FlipGrid board and leave a short video. The December 2018 topic (Let's Connect / Introductions) is still open if you would like to leave a video there as well.

Green FlipGrid logo