Online Resources for Analyzing Character

This week we look at the last of three standards under "Key Ideas and Details" in the "Reading" section of the Common Core: Standard 3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme. For students to understand how a character develops over the course of a text and how his or her interactions impact plot and theme, they first need to know where to begin. A good place to start is to help them get into the mind of the character. The idea is to help students take a character and, to borrow a quote from Atticus Finch, "climb into his skin and walk around in it." The internet offers many ways to facilitate this creatively with technology. Here are a few ideas and sites that might work for you and for your class: Profile Page—Have students create a "Facebook" profile page for a character. If your school blocks social networking sites, try using a profile page creating tool like the one at Read Write Think or use a template from Microsoft and have students post it on your class blog or send it to you attached to an email. Trading Cards—Have students create character "trading cards" at This one might sound too immature for high school students, but you could be surprised that they'll enjoy it. The key is to challenge them to be as creative as possible in their design. Newspaper Interview—Once your students have successfully delved into the minds of their characters, you can create more complex assignments having them analyze actions, words, and motives. Although this is a good opportunity for traditional essay writing, you might also consider having them write a newspaper feature article with an interview of their character. is a good place for introducing your students to journalism. However you decide to use technology to get your students inside the heads of their characters, I'm sure websites and tools like these ones can enrich the experience and will elevate the quality of your outcomes.

Writing about Theme with iWrite

Continuing with our exploration of the Common Core, this week I've discovered a useful website for the second standard under "Key Ideas and Details." Standard 2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text. This standard is a broad one but also a very important one as it focuses on analysis which is among those higher order thinking skills so important to students becoming independent learners. It is unlikely you could (or should) cover this standard with one lesson. Students need multiple opportunities to learn about and meet this standard. iwrite from Great Source (Haughton, Mifflin, Harcourt) offers a lot of useful material online for both teachers and students exploring not only central ideas with writing but also many other topics and types of writing. Of particular use for this standard, is a section dedicated to writing an essay analyzing the theme in a work of literature. This section takes students through the step-by-step process of developing an idea related to theme and writing an essay about it. The site also offers printable graphic organizers like the "theme chart" which students can download and print. As the title of the suggests, much of the focus is on supporting the development of writing skills. The website is organized into three main sections—for teachers, parents, and students. All three areas have an impressive depth of useful content like the Glossary of Literary Terms and the Grammar Handbook. iwrite also offers help for parents supporting their students. One of the coolest features on this site is the Power Point lessons you can download. You'll find them under "Mini Lessons" in the Educator's section.

Resources for Meeting the Common Core, Part I: Interactive Informational Texts

After a long and much needed hiatus, I am back… I found I needed some complete down time very much, hence the brief silence at Interactive LA. I hope you too are able to find this for yourself…time to repair and to recuperate. This week, I begin a weekly series focusing on using technology to meet specific Common Core State Standards beginning with "Reading," "Key Ideas and Details," standard 1. For these posts, I will be looking at the standards for grades 9 & 10 because I teach high school, but I think you'll see that adapting the standards among the grades is easy. Standard 1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston's Interactive Informational Texts Looking over my syllabus recently, I noticed it is heavy with fiction–short stories, novels, and plays–but thin on nonfiction or "informational texts." Standard 1 provides an excellent opportunity to use both fiction and nonfiction text. Think about The Great Gatsby—an important symbol in that novel is a faded billboard advertisement for an optometrist, Doctor T. J. Eckleburg (Check out Schmoop's guide on Gatsby). In today's media-saturated culture, it makes a lot of sense to teach students about the inferred messages of advertisements as well as those in novels, stories, and plays. Certainly students today are bombarded with more advertisement than any previous generation …internet, television, movies, even their smart phones and video game players push advertisement. They need to know how to decipher these texts as much as those crafted as an essay or a novel. Interactive Informational Texts provides a large selection of non-fiction texts to use for meeting this standard with your students. Each selection includes links and pop-ups that ask students thought-provoking questions before, during, and after reading to guide their analysis of the text. The selections are grouped by grade level but many of them could work in a number of grade level classes. In the Classroom Choose one passage from Interactive Informational Texts and one advertisement from a magazine, newspaper, the Internet, or from some other source. Begin with the Interactive Informational Texts, using the guiding pop-up questions for students' analyses. Next, have students use those same questions to analyze the advertisement. Discussion about the methods authors use to persuade their audiences in fiction and in nonfiction should garner some interesting insights into the use of language to persuade.

Animoto: Another Great Tool for Adding Music and Video to Your Lit Plans

Summer has finally arrived here in Maine. I hope many of you, like me, have finished up the school year and can now take some time to recuperate. Looking forward to a productive summer, I am planning a series of blog posts focusing on the Common Core State Standards Initiative. My plan is to post regular articles with a simple goal: each blog post will take one specific CCSS outcome and demonstrate a resource and/or method for utilizing technology to meet that standard. Essentially, I envision a CCSS curriculum map for Language Arts, based completely on technology integration. I'm hoping to begin this series the first or second week of July. Meanwhile, I have found a website I think will be fun to use with students in the fall…Animoto. Animoto is a basic online tool that allows you to create "video slideshows" or montages with music and text. The basic "light" account is free (as long as you don't mind being asked often to sign up for the pay version) and it allows you to make as many thirty-second montages as you like. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know I'm always interested in how to combine multimedia with reading to bring the text alive for students, and this is a fun tool for doing that. In the Classroom I plan to have my students create slideshows that reflect the mood of passages they choose from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," a particularly eerie story. You can have students select a scene from anything you've read together and set it to images and music. Music has to be free from copyright protection, so be careful here. Steer your students to the Internet Archive where they'll find thousands of music files they can explore and experiment with…all free to use. The challenge for them will be fitting the right images and music to the scene. Students can also manipulate the speed of the film, add text, and even choose custom backgrounds. I put one video together quickly to try it out, so click here if you want to see it. I found the strange music in the Internet Archive and the images by searching Google. Thank you for reading. Get rest, and I hope you'll check back throughout July and August for my series of articles on meeting the Common Core Standards.

Free Audio and Video Files of Famous Speeches at American

With so much literature, grammar, writing, and vocabulary to cover in our curriculum these days, it's easy to overlook the importance of oral language in our classrooms. Consider also how reluctant many students already are about "getting up in front of the class," and it's easy to put off teaching about speeches and oral presentations. But with evermore rapid advancements of technology and the internet, listening and speaking skills are becoming increasingly important. The authors of the Common Core State Standards put it this way: "New technologies have broadened and expanded the role that speaking and listening play in acquiring and sharing knowledge and have tightened their link to other forms of communication. The Internet has accelerated the speed at which connections between speaking, listening, reading, and writing can be made, requiring that students be ready to use these modalities nearly simultaneously." American is a good choice.

Students can Illustrate Epic Similes with Comic Creators

Gearing up for my Odyssey unit, I've been searching the Internet for a creative way to engage my students using technology while tackling a challenging read. While looking, I stumbled across Spore Comic Creator, a free online application that you can use to bring Homer's rich language alive by creating custom comic books. With this online application, students can go beyond visualizing the battles with giant cannibals, the treachery in the cave of a barbaric Cyclops, and the terror of the man-eating Scylla–they can turn the words to images and at the same time learn to recognize and understand the function of metaphors, similes, epic similes, and vivid sensory details in the text. You can also encourage your students to create entire new adventures for Odysseus. Spore Comic Creator gives students the tools to create entire universes complete with unique backgrounds, unusual buildings and structures, vehicles, strange creatures, monsters, and many different objects. This mostly sci-fi setup is pretty easy to learn, but you should probably explore it a bit before setting your kids loose. Students can create their own accounts and save their work, print it, or email it. As always, consult your school's acceptable use policies and be sure students are protecting their identities online. You'll also want to make sure your school's computers have the latest version of Adobe Flash Player installed. Once the students are busy, you'll see there is no limit to how they can create, explore, and even practice original story telling. They can create just one page to illustrate a scene or they can create several and thus put together an entire graphic novel. They can also customize their projects with music, video, and text, so while encouraging creativity, you can also require they demonstrate their knowledge/understanding of the text with these elements. If you're looking for something simpler to use, you might try Make Beliefs or Comic Master. Both of these also have useful features. I've provided links and short descriptions below. I'm working on a lesson plan with Spore Comic Creator tied to the Common Core Standards for my students reading the Odyssey. As soon as it's done, I'll post it in the lesson plans section of this site. Meanwhile…have fun with your students creating comic books and graphic novels! –Scott Other Comic Creating Applications: Make Beliefs — This one is simple but fun. You can print or email but saving is a bit complicated (see tutorial); multilingual; lots of character choices. Comic Master — Comic Master is a little more teen-oriented than Make Beliefs. With this one you can create an account and save pages. Comic Master also has a links to complex, in-depth lesson plans and other resources.

Quizlet can be a Simple Way to Get Students Collaborating Online

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills cites the ability to work collaboratively among some very important skills students will need in order to be ready for the careers of the 21st century. However, as school district budgets shrink and as our classroom rosters grow, finding opportunities to have our students collaborate can be difficult. Sometimes, when a class is quite large, setting kids to work in groups creates an exhausting job for the teacher keeping them all productive and on task. So here's a simple way to include some collaborative studying while at the same time integrating a basic media literacy element with your next vocabulary unit: Have students create vocabulary note-cards at and then share them using the "Create a Group" function. All you have to do is create an account, choose the "My Groups" tab, and "create your own" group. Once your group is complete, you can invite students to join and begin creating, sharing, and collaborating. At first glance, Quizlet might seem too basic to be worth mentioning—it's just creating a digital version of the old fashioned 3×5 note-cards, right? On the other hand, Quizlet has some very useful features like games with flashcards and a "learning" mode that walks students through a three-step process for mastering whatever information they are studying. There are also thousands of other users already on Quizlet which means thousands of note-cards already available to use in the classroom. And if you've got students working on school laptops, in a computer lab, or even on their iPhones and laptops at home, why not challenge them to work and compete on teams? You could have them compete for recall speed and for levels of mastery of vocabulary definitions or literary terms. You might also challenge your students to find innovative ways to represent information so that it is easy to remember (mnemonic devices). Reward them for working together online and you will be teaching them important core media literacy skills as well as basic vocabulary and terminology. Check out Quizlet's "Groups" function. It's a simple but very useful tool for learning and collaborating online. As always, be sure to carefully protect your students' personal identification and other information while doing anything online.