Middle/High School ELA Newsletter

Supporting Educators to Strengthen Teaching & Learning

January 2016

Happy New Year! We trust that your holidays were filled with family, friends, and fun! This month’s newsletter is packed with argumentative writing lesson ideas and resources as we all get back into the swing of things!

In an effort to stay connected with you and as Twitter continues to evolve into a thriving professional development network, the MCESC ELA team will be utilizing the hashtag #mcescela. This hashtag will be used to share resources and ideas with teachers who are following our department. If you are currently using Twitter or are considering this great resource, please follow us as we continue to network with our local teachers and beyond.

Kristin Fox- @kristinfox28

Wendy Lyden- @wendylyden1

Lisa Iberis - @libe0618

Angeline Theis- @amtheis2

Jayson Yeagley- @mryeagley

Lisa Young- @lisayoteach

All of us on the ELA team wish you a happy and successful new year,

Lisa, Angeline, & Kristin

Congratulations to our Book Winners !

AIR Updates

All ELA practice tests are in the Portal for grades 3-10! Access your grade level test here.

The chart depicted represents the question types of the Practice Tests only. The chart is to help teachers to see other other grade level practice test question types, as ANY question type can appear on the real test in the Spring. The same goes for the writing prompt. It will either be argumentative OR explanatory, but we will not know until spring so the chart is to help teachers see what prompts are on the practice tests in each grade level, so teachers can read multiple prompts from multiple grades to prepare.

We do recommend viewing multiple grades to see the difference of test questions, as any question type may appear on the test students will take this year.

Sample question types are depicted with an X for each grade level practice test:

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  • Ohio’s Testing Portal Main Page-Blueprints and practice tests will be accessible from this page.

  • Sample questions are available in 3-10. Access here.

  • ELA Blueprints can be accessed here.

  • Writing Rubrics for grades 3-5 can be accessed here and here.

  • Writing Rubrics for grades 6-10 can be accessed here and here.

  • Answers from the practice tests and sample student writing responses can be accessed:

  • Student tutorials for the AIR platform are available as well. The sign-in and navigation videos are here. The testing tools videos are here.

  • To view the AIR Update slideshow from ELA Content Night, please click here.

Instructional Focus-Argumentative Writing Pre-Writing Strategies

Utilizing Mentor Texts & Anchor Charts to Model Argumentative Writing

Many times students say, “I can’t write an argumentative essay!” This can be a source of frustration for both students and teachers alike. It may be because students do not understand the thinking behind the process and have yet to see a strong example of argumentative writing. The article, “Using Mentor Texts to Motivate and Support Student Writers” by Rebecca Alber, explains the importance of the mentor text for students as a way to show students strong writing not just tell students how they will be graded. The mentor text is crucial to the prewriting stage of argumentative writing, but how do teachers start to incorporate this strategy into their classrooms?

Choose a Mentor Text

First choose an appropriate mentor text for the learning targets of the class. Some of the following links can help:

Students can then be given the mentor text to mark up as the teacher models the essential elements of the projected mentor text. The important areas to highlight are the whys and hows about what the author did when writing. This approach can help students understand the author’s intended purpose which will assist them as they craft their own essays.

Model and Create Anchor Charts

When this modeling occurs, it is crucial for teachers to create anchor charts as a visual depiction of the essential elements of a strong argumentative essay. Some ideas for anchor charts are: Format of Argument, Hooks, Claims, Counterclaims, Rebuttals, and Textual Evidence. Sample anchor charts can be found in many places, but Pinterest is a great resource to utilize when trying to determine the look of different types of charts. These charts help expand the domain specific vocabulary and allow students to build independence as they work collaboratively or individually on their writing.

Scaffold Instruction with Graphic Organizers

Lastly, it is extremely important for students to use graphic organizers to aid in their understanding. Graphic organizers are best used when scaffolded with different instructional activities. As an example, students can use graphic organizers when the teacher models, with partner pairs and/or grouping activities, and to create their own arguments from brainstorming. Some example graphic organizers can be found here and here, as well as doing a Google search for “Argumentative Graphic Organizers.”

Putting It All Together-Sample Mini-Lesson

The chart below offers an idea for a brief mini-lesson utilizing the tips above.

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Incorporating Visuals to Introduce the Language of Argument

As a way to introduce the academic language surrounding argumentative writing, try beginning with visuals. After reading Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12 by George Hillocks, I was inspired to begin my argumentative writing unit a bit differently. Regardless of reading or ability level, all students can engage with an image. Here’s a quick idea of what I did with my students:

As student entered the classroom, I projected an image on the Smartboard. The image I used was James Gillray's A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion (1792). See the image below.

As students settled in, I asked them to start class with a free write about the image. I asked my students to record what they noticed about the image, what reactions they had about the image, and what questions they had regarding it. After a few minutes, I stopped them and provided a little background information about the man in the image: He is George, prince of Wales, who would later to rule England as George IV.” Now armed with this information, I asked my students to continue writing and asked them what kind of King they thought George made?

Again after a few minutes, I encouraged them to turn and talk with a partner about their writing. Then I asked students to share out how they described George. We created a list of the board of the various adjectives they used to describe the man and his home. I also chimed in and played devil’s advocate at times to stir conversation. Once they finished describing George, I asked them what kind of King they thought he would be. Overwhelming, they told me he would be awful! As discussion continued, students cited evidence to support their interpretation. Again, I stepped in and offered the opposite perspective on George, and defended his honor by arguing he would be a fine King! I too offered up the same evidence, but interpreted it much differently than my students had.

Once we finished our discussion/debate, I introduced the terms argument, claim, counterclaim, evidence, and rebuttal. At this point students could truly make meaningful connections with these terms as they reflected on the day’s activity.

This activity could be done with any image that provides students the opportunity to interpret and debate the details. George Hillocks even recommends the series Crime and Puzzlement from Lawrence Treat which contains solve them yourself picture mysteries--think CSI!

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Video Series--Modeling How to Deconstruct an Argument

In this 50 minute lesson, Lindsay Thompson walks us through how she utilizes modeling in her classroom as she deconstructs an argument. This includes a short video as well as resources for each step of the lesson. It focuses on the claim portion of crafting an argument. Access this resource here. You may need to create a FREE account to access all of the materials.
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January's Book Nook

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Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Maggie Thrash attended Camp Bellflower every summer of her first 15 years of life. This graphic memoir is one like no other. Here, Thrash retells the story of summer camp life and all that it entails for girls, many of whom are experiencing hormones for the first time. This all girl camp has become part of Maggie Thrash’s very existence as she takes part in the same activities, with the same friends each summer.

Camp Bellflower is deep in the mountains of Appalachia, far from any civilization and far from anything but the everyday often mundane routine of camp. Maggie begins to feel confused and anxious with camp and the activities she has chosen to take part in. As a result, she joins the riflery team, an activity that very few girls take part in throughout the summer.

This experience begins to change Maggie in a way she had never thought possible before. Nicky, the counselor in charge, offers Maggie the guidance and expertise needed to become quite successful. In fact, she becomes so successful that she quickly begins to take the limelight off of Libby Mulligan who has always been known for having the best aim at camp.

As girls, begin to talk about Maggie and her new found success, she starts to look for an outlet and friendship. Her best friend, Bethanny, begins to notice the change in Maggie and her interest in other things around camp. Maggie has taken a liking to Erin, a camp counselor, unlike any other counselor. However, these feelings aren’t “normal” everyday feelings one experiences. Maggie, a hormonally developing 15 year old, starts to feel a lust and like for Erin.

This graphic memoir takes several interesting twists as Maggie and Erin both begin to discover each other and their unspoken desire to be more than friends. This, however, is not the kind of relationship that would be accepted around camp.

Can their secret friendship last the summer? Will other girls begin to discover the emotional change in Maggie? This must read memoir will keep you on the edge of your seat, wanting to know how things will turn out. The graphics help the story to come alive as Thrash recounts the emotions of that life changing summer.

Due to the sensitive issues discussed and mature language, this novel is best suited for upper middle school or high school students.

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

Some Assembly Required is a memoir about the transition of Arin Andrews from female to male and the obstacles that come with being a transgender teen. Andrews allows the reader to experience the transitioning process and the feelings associated with it by giving honest and direct details and feelings along the way. Andrews takes readers through early childhood confusion, to telling his family, to navigating dating life as a transgender teen, to the public spotlight placed on him, and his passion to help others feel comfortable with the process.

Andrews remembers: “But the thing is, I knew what I was feeling was beyond being gay. The label still didn’t feel right, which made the whole mess even more confusing and scary.”

I reviewed this book because it was recommended as a must read to understand the viewpoints and struggles of transitioning as a teen. I have to say that I could not put this book down as I learned so much from reading about the process of transitioning from the eyes of a high school student. Andrews’ tone is straightforward and completely honest which helps a reader unfamiliar with the process. I appreciated that he explained in detail about many of the different parts of process. I also found it helpful that Andrews gave resources at the end of the memoir for additional books and websites to visit. Since the book is so honest and raw, it may be explicit for some readers so be aware of the context of the book in case questions arise about the subject matter.

Overall, I felt privileged to read this book and learn from Andrews about the transitioning process and transgender community. It truly helped make me more aware of issues that transgender teens may face and how to go about learning more to help make the transition as comfortable as possible.

School Library Journal recommends grades 9 and up.

Hunt for the Bamboo Rat by Graham Salisbury

Based on a true story, this World War II novel by Graham Salisbury tells how Zenji Watanabe, 17, is sent from Hawaii to the Philippines to spy on the Japanese. Zenji Watanabe is Nisei, an American with Japanese parents, living in Honolulu. He is recruited into the military to be a translator because he speaks perfect Japanese. Zenji is sent to Manila undercover as a civilian to gather information on the Japanese in the Philippines. If they discover his identity, he’ll be executed as a traitor. When captured, he maintains that he is an American civilian despite unthinkable torture.

“Zenji’s cuffs didn’t bother him. He was spellbound, seeing life outside the mud-brown prison for the first time in months--people, colors, ponds, grasslands, weedy fields, bumpy roads, shacks with corrugated iron roofs, rickety corrals, water buffalo, people of all ages on rusty old bicycles. Free, ordinary life in the midst of war.


But freedom had nothing to do with him. Was he headed to some new kind of torture?”

I wanted to review this book because I enjoy historical fiction, and I was not disappointed. Salisbury’s compelling narrative balances historical facts with relatable characters and suspenseful plot twists. While there are scenes involving torture and violence, Salisbury handles it well and does not linger in those moments. Each of the chapter titles act as quick teasers for the upcoming events, and I also appreciated the glossary at the end of the book for the Japanese words included throughout the text. I could see teachers utilizing this for a cross-curricular unit and partnering with their Social Studies teacher to research and deepen their understanding of World War II.

This is the fourth book in Graham Salisbury’s highly acclaimed Prisoners of the Empire titles, which began with the award-winning Under the Blood-Red Sun.

School Library Journal recommends grades 5 and up.

Teaching Argument Writing: Grades 6-12 by George Hillocks Jr.

I frequently recommend this book to teachers who are looking for resources and ideas to spice up their argumentative writing unit. Hillocks beautifully provides instructional strategies that scaffold students into the argumentative writing process. He begins with image analysis and academic vocabulary introduction, shifts to different types of argument, and ends with ways to use inquiry as a means to drive student writing. I appreciated the down-to-earth style and tone that Hillocks uses as he explains his practical and real-world approach to a sometimes difficult form of writing.

Professional Development Opportunities

ELA Strategy Survival

MCESC in Boardman from 4 to 6pm

Next meetings: January 13, February 3, March 15

Contact Nicole Mathias at nmathias@sebring.k12.oh.us


March 9 from 6:00-8:30pm

A La Cart banquet facility,429 Lisbon St., Canfield, OH, 44406

Speaker Dr. Lori Wolfing

Contact Joyce Zitkovich at Joyce.Zitkovich@Boardmanschools.org


February 26-27

Sharon Draper, Rainbow Rowell, Timothy Rasinski, and many more!

Details can be found here.

ELA Content Night

March 1, 2016

4:00-6:30pm at the MCCTC

Register Here

Virginia Hamilton Conference

April 7 and 8

Kent State University Featuring Nikki Grimes

Details can be found here.

National Writing Project

Option 1: June 13-July 1, 2016

Hybrid Course: Half online and half on-site

Choice of meeting at Wooster Schools or KSU for face to face sessions

Option 2: August 8-18, 2016

Hosted for NWP-KSU by Elyria City Schools

The deadline for applying for KSU/Wooster is January 15, 2016 and the deadline for

applying to KSU/Elyria is February 15, 2016.
January's Poll

Want to win the books featured in this month's newsletter? Please take our survey. Thanks :)