Middle/High School ELA Newsletter

MCESC Supporting Educators to Strengthen Teaching & Learning

February 2016

February is here and room parties and valentine treat bags are in full swing in our elementary teachers' classrooms. As to not leave our wonderful middle school and high school teachers out of the fun, we're showing some love this month by giving away a bonus book! Be sure to check if you are one of the Book Nook winners.

Many of you participated in our poll last month which was "What questions do you have about how to implement argumentative writing with students?" We will start this month's newsletter with a question and answer section based on your responses. We hope you will find it helpful.

As always, please contact us and let us know how we can support you and your students.

Kristin, Lisa, and Angeline

Connect with us on Twitter

Kristin - @kristinfox28

Lisa - @libe0618

Angeline - @amtheis2

Argumentative Writing Q & A

How can technology be integrated into an argumentative writing lesson?

Google Docs. Infographics, Videos, Twitter, and Powtoons, Instagrok.

Additional resources

I'd like to know how to help my advanced/gifted students more, in the area of argumentative writing. Does anyone have preferred resources that are well-suited for identified gifted middle school ELA students?

When I taught argumentative writing, I definitely let my gifted students pick their topics and determine the sources to support their defense and counterclaim. It was a lengthy process, but I wanted them to be researchers of something they felt passionately about (within reason of school-appropriate topics).

I would then do a fishbowl debate with the students. They would get in teams of 3-4 and do research and prep a debate against another team. The kids loved it! I would project a doc on the screen and let each side have a say, then a counterclaim. The class would vote before and after for their chosen side...it was interesting to see how some kids were swayed based on the evidence of arguments.

The following documents may help to see how to differentiate for gifted learners.

RL Standards Enhanced for Gifted Learners Gifted Lesson Review Checklist Diverse Learner Lesson Design

Thanks to Dawna Rappach, gifted consultant, for her assistance in answering this question!

I do a ton with implementing argumentative writing in my classroom. It seems to be going well but it is such a process (outline, drafts, and lots of feedback to create confidence!). My main concern is timing. How can I streamline argumentative writing so that I can fit it into the time frame of the AIR test...and what is the actual time frame that they are going to give us? I feel like if I can speed up the process then I can continue to give more opportunities to do this, which should then in return strengthen their writing.

Timing is always a huge issue, especially with a newer writing type. Once students know the process for writing argumentative pieces, it will be important to emphasize to students the planning process. It might benefit students to be given multiple sources to read/annotate in a timed setting. Additionally, it will be important for students to know how to generate a writing template or organizer on paper or screen to pre-write ideas also in a timed fashion. Students may have to practice doing these two things again and again, before ever writing the actual argumentative paper. After students get used to the planning process and can plan in an appropriate time, it will be time to time the actual writing of the essay.

Once you know where the students’ strengths and weakness are, you could try having them write a paragraph or two honing on their weak areas. For example, if they are weak in counterclaims, present students with a claim and ask them to provide a counterclaim and rebuttal.

How do you get students to elaborate on the text evidence they provide in an argument? I am finding that they can find evidence, cite it correctly, but then struggle with their own thoughts and how to tie it all together/avoid repetition.

Modeling is a huge help here! If you are comfortable, write in front of your students and think aloud as you write. Explain your thought process and show them how you work through that move as a writer. Also, share mentor texts. Ask students to identify how authors explain and elaborate on the research they provide. The feedback that’s provided to students should be specific as possible. Another idea would be to create an anchor chart to leave up in the classroom in order to show ways to attack that part of the writing process.

Modeling in the Classroom Example

Just started today...so far I've spent the majority of my prep time finding mentor texts. As we start to compile anchor charts next week, I'm wondering what order to go in. For example, should I start with looking at the texts through the lens of format? Or just the hook? Just the claim? Or should I start with evaluating evidence first?

I would look at the overall format of the style and then break down each component. Perhaps ask students how the sample piece of writing differs from the other styles they’ve written so far this year. From there, I would discuss the different sections of the essay with hands-on activities and group work.

I struggle with how to teach 7th grade argumentative writing without confusing them completely. Any ideas/methods for teaching argumentative writing to 7th and 8th graders would be appreciated.

Modeling is essential for students to understand the argumentative writing process. Students need to see what a strong essay looks like and why the author made the decisions for the composition of the piece. Offering students strong anchor texts and working alongside of them to annotate the features of argument writing is crucial as well.

I would also love to see some research that could be given to students to use to write their argumentative essay (3 texts that they can use as their research). This way they can practice for their standardized test.

NEWSELA offers some great text sets that could be used with students. ReadWorks is another place to gather texts for this purpose as well. You could also utilize Points of View from Infohio.

Do you know of any web-based PBL sites that incorporate argumentative writing?

Defined Stem

Defined STEM combines a number of different content types that accentuate the educational strategies of STEM education. Real-World Videos set the stage for each lesson by showing the practical application of educational concepts within a company/industry. Performance Task built around the specific job/industry ask the students to apply the knowledge learned in a real world unpredictable situations. Literacy Tasks ask students to read, synthesize and write informative and/or position papers around the real world career based topic.

Some of the schools within the county are utilizing this site through a Straight A grant. Please contact your assigned ESC supervisor for further information.

I can have my students write their opinions about recess, gum chewing, or screen time and have them cite their reasons. I can have them argue a side in a situation such as cloning or ecology based on two or three different articles. What is the best order to teach these, and should we spend more time on one than the other?

I think starting with the personal arguments is a great way to tap into students’ personal interests. This is a great motivator. Perhaps asking them to revise to incorporate informational text evidence would be a nice bridge between personal opinion and academic argument.

More sources and mentor texts to use with the students…

Readworks, NEWSELA, Appendix C, and Louisiana Believes

Additionally, I like the Achieve the Core student writing examples so students can see real student writing. This is the argumentative/opinion link and this is the informative/explanatory link. I like this much better as teachers can find what they feel is an exemplar for their student population plus prompts and articles to use with students.

Do I need to teach types of reasoning and expect my students to learn types of reasoning such as inductive and deductive?

Inductive and deductive reasoning will not be assessed on any state exam. However, you may find that it will assist students in building more logical arguments.

Should we use text for them to respond? Create their own argument?

It is important to use texts for students to respond as this will be the platform for testing. Additionally, students will be given multiple types of texts throughout their schooling that they will have to respond to so it will be helpful to know how to write in this manner.

If students are using their own topic ideas, research articles will need to be complex and vetted for valid evidence to use in student essays.

Time constraints are the biggest issue I seem to face with argument writing. Due to the amount of content that needs to be introduced during the semester, introducing argument based upon research has proven to be difficult with freshmen and sophomores. Knowing that a large research based paper will be introduced senior year, my desire is to properly prepare the students with a smaller project. What I am looking for are ways to teach argument writing based on research that can be accomplished in a limited time frame to students with minimal experience in the subject manner. Any suggestions would help! Thanks

Time is always an issue with teaching larger concepts. One idea that many area teachers use is to compile some text sets based on engaging topics for students. This allows students choice while reducing the time needed to find valid sources in a lab. Since a full research paper is at the center of later courses in your district, you may want to use the time in your class to get students to grasp the main components of argument (claim, counterclaim, rebuttal….). You can always reach out to your ESC supervisor to meet for lesson ideas and strategies.

Congratulations to our Book Winners !

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Bonus Book Winner- John Phillips Boardman High School

AIR Updates

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

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.

  • ELA and Math Performance Levels for 2015-2016

  • 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-Explanatory Writing

Utilizing Mentor Texts & Anchor Charts to Model Explanatory Writing

Utilizing Mentor Texts and Anchor Charts to Model Informative/Explanatory Writing

Writing informative and explanatory text as defined in Ohio’s Learning Standards has changed the way students can research and examine complex ideas. Students are now required to analyze and synthesize information from multiple sources to produce a piece of writing that brings insight on a certain concept.

The purpose of this genre of writing is to provide the reader with a more informed understanding of the topic. The focus, unlike argumentative writing, is focused around telling how or a why while providing new knowledge. Writing to inform or to provide an explanation works in conjunction with research standards 7,8, & 9. As a result, teachers should encourage students to conduct a variety of short more in-depth research projects to extend their thinking on a variety of topics. Research can also be tied across content areas to to answer questions and solve problems . By high school, students reading and writing should be 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction, which explains the necessity for students to read and write across all content areas.

Teachers must educate students on the process of writing for this purpose by modeling and providing concrete examples of how to determine what is relevant information from both primary and secondary sources. One strategy to do this is through the use of mentor texts .

Mentor texts used for informative/explanatory can come from a variety of different sources including both print and digital materials. These materials can be used to model for students in a read aloud while encouraging students to “think out loud” about the author’s craft within the text. The teacher can model how students can read like a writer, which in turn will help them to write like a reader. Students can see and hear the how various authors provide examples and explanations different topics of information.

By high school, students reading and writing should be 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction, which explains the necessity for students to read and write across all content areas.

Below are a variety of resources that can support the instruction of Informative/Explanatory Writing.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

Digital Resources:

  • Britannica Online: (All grades) Provides four complete encyclopedias and other resources that ensure consistency with classroom topics and age-appropriate language.

  • AP Images: (Intermediate through high school) This source provides both historic and current newsworthy photographs, as well as audio news clips and graphics. For instance, students may listen to the the President’s weekly address.

  • Teen Health and Wellness: (Middle and high school) Provides middle school and high school students with nonjudgmental, straightforward, standards-aligned, curricular and self-help support. Topics include diseases, drugs, alcohol, nutrition, mental health, suicide, bullying, green living, financial literacy, and more.

  • iWonder (Middle and High School) This new site contains the “best of the best” websites that have been selected by Ohio School Librarians. These websites included a variety of information relevant to topics students are studying today.

  • infOhio (all grade levels) infOhio is a free resource offered to all schools in Ohio. This digital library contains a variety of content and services to enhance student learning.

  • Wonderopolis (all grade levels) a place where natural curiosity and imagination lead to exploration and discovery in learners of all ages.

Model and Create Anchor Charts

Anchor charts are a visual for students as understand the key components of an informative/explanatory essay. Pinterest is a great resource to locate a variety of different anchor chart examples. Here you can see how different teachers have created these visual aids to enhance student learning. These charts can also be created on a smaller scale for students to have easy access to in their writer's’ notebook.

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are a great way for students to plot out their brainstorming ideas as they begin to prewrite their informational/explanatory essays. As previously mentioned, the teacher should model how to develop a strong informative essay. Graphic organizers are a great way to keep students focused around this activity. There are a variety of different organizers that students can use which include those found here.

Lesson Idea

As a way to build solid researching skills, try incorporating infographics into the classroom. Infographics are a visual representation of data and research.They can be found in countless newspapers and magazines and act as a quick reference of information. Infographics can be a great way to bridge the researching phase of an explanatory unit and the writing phase. Here’s a quick lesson idea:

As students enter the classroom, project or share an infographic that aligns with your students’ interests. (You can find some solid examples here or with a quick google search.) Ask students to freewrite about the infographic documenting any noticings they might have. After a quick think-pair-share, ask for volunteers to share their findings and thoughts. As discussion builds, students will quickly recognize the key components of infographics--credible information, cited sources, and visuals that tell the story of the information. This presents the opportunity for students to create the rubric that will be used to assess their own work.

Students can begin brainstorming possible topic ideas for their own infographics. Choice is a critical component! Once a topic is selected and a research question has been developed, students can begin gathering credible sources that will inform their infographics.

Once the research is in place, students can turn their focus to the visual aspect of the assignment. This is a good time to reexamine the sample infographics and discuss how the authors effectively communicate their information and/or message. Focus on colors, font, images, and placement as all of these components combined communicate the intended message.

At this point, some students may want to sketch a rough draft on paper, and others may be ready to compose on a web-based site such as PiktoChart or Venngage. Or don't be afraid to go low-tech with construction paper and markers! As students finish their infographics, give them the opportunity to self-assess and perhaps peer critique as well.

Be sure to offer students a chance to showcase their finished projects in your classroom or on the web. Maybe they could be added to the district website or a class blog.

For more ideas on infographics, you can visit Ann Elliott’s article, “How to Turn a Research Project into Infographics.”

February's Book Nook

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Mikey, a senior in high school, and his group of close-knit friends will be graduating in about a month. Mikey’s biggest concerns are similar to those of many American high school seniors--trying to get a date, passing his final exams, and working a part-time job. However, the “Indie Kids” in his school always seem to be battling supernatural forces. Patrick Ness weaves two plotlines together in this novel--one about Mikey and his friends and one about the “Indie Kids.”

“It’s happening. There’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing I can do about graduating. Nothing I can do about going to a different college than all of my friends. Nothing I can do about these feelings for Nathan that surprise me as much as anybody. Sorry, but what’s the point of lying about it? What’s the point of lying about anything? We could keep being afraid to say we don’t know stuff and then the future will come and eat us anyway and we’ll regret not doing all the stuff we wished me did.”

While the “Indie Kids” struggle with being the “chosen ones” charged with saving the planet from zombie deer and soul-eating ghosts, Mikey and his friends deal with more every day problems like alcoholic parents, eating disorders, and anxiety. Ness gives a quick update on the “Indie Kids” at the beginning of each chapter and the rest of each section is devoted to Mikey and his friends. Filled with wit and a dash of sarcasm, this book aims to help teens realize that everyone is capable of being a hero right where they are.

While I enjoyed the humor of poking fun at all of the supernatural facets that seems to litter many popular YA books, I did find the “Indie Kids” storyline to be distracting at times. Overall, I see students enjoying this title if they read other titles from Ness or Rainbow Rowell.

The School Library Journal recommends grades 9 and up.

Syllabus- Notes From An Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry

Author winning author, Lynda Barry takes readers on a journey that many of her students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have the pleasure of experiencing every semester in her latest book, Syllabus- Notes From An Accidental Professor. This undefined genre book, which appears more as a composition book, offers the doodles and insight outlined within her course syllabus.

Syllabus also includes Barry’s creative lesson plans and writing exercises used with her course. Many of the ideas outlined here included real-life activities that can be implemented for classroom use. Barry style for teaching writing composition is anything but conventional. Instead, her focus in on the relationship between the hand, the brain, and spontaneous images, both written and visual.

Barry’s desire to turn her syllabus and course activities into more than just your average writing course came from began in 1975 when she began keeping her own notebook at the suggestion of her teacher, Marilyn Frasca. Frasca taught her to use her hands, paper and pencil to carry her into the past and deeper into the present.

In Syllabus, Barry encourages her readers to find their creative voice and use their personal memories to inspire the writing process. The images, doodles, notes, exercises, poetry, and encouragement offered can be invaluable to anyone hoping to take their creativity to another level.

I would recommend Syllabus to anyone willing to take a risk with reading a graphic novel that can be a bit overwhelming at first glance; it’s definitely not for the distracted reader. Nonetheless, once I sat down and really took in all that Barry was suggesting, I was hooked and actually took away some ideas to be more creative. This is a book that would be best suited for students in grades 6-12; especially those students who often experience “writer's block” and need some fresh ideas.

Other reviews...

London Free Press

In recent years, Lynda Barry – half cartoonist, half guru, and entirely irrepressible – has created her own genre, handcrafting inspirational guidebooks about how and why to be creative… Scrawled out and doodled all over the page, collaged together with snippets of schoolwork, snatches of poetry, and drawings of weird-looking monsters, Barry’s notes [in Syllabus] double as dispatches from a fertile unconscious, and testify once more to the unfathomable depths of human invention.

The Globe and Mail

Lynda Barry [is] one of the greatest visual artists of our time… Syllabus makes not only tangible but also practically attainable the idea that keeping a notebook or a diary, whether visual or otherwise, is one of the most consciousness-expanding ways of bearing witness to our experience and our journey through this world.

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines

Until Friday Night is a realistic fiction novel set in Lawton, Alabama about two teenagers who are both struggling on the inside to cope with tragedy that has embedded their lives, but this inside struggle makes West Ashby and Maggie Carlton act differently on the outside. Told through both teenagers perspectives, Glines allows readers to become immersed in the personalities of both West and Maggie. West, the popular football player, turns to arrogance and sexual escapades to escape, Maggie, the gorgeous new student, shuts off all verbal communication with those around her. Both of these teenagers struggle to let anyone into their worlds, that is until they meet each other.

West explains: “...It had been like she’d seen through me. Seen my thoughts. And she understood. But she also expected more from me. That had been hard to swallow. For some crazed reason I didn’t want to let her down. At the same time I wanted her to hate me enough so she never came near me again.”

Maggie ponders: “Still West needed to be saved. Someone had to get close to him, to reach him. No one had been able to save my father, and horror had followed in his path of destruction. West was in desperate need of help. That much I knew. I also knew I wasn’t the person for him. I had my own demons to survive.”

I reviewed this book because it was recommended as a favorite of teenagers due to the realistic nature of dealing with tragic loss. I was hooked from the first chapter. I loved following the alternating storylines of Maggie and West and becoming entangled with the demons each were working through. This book has topics of loss, anxiety, depression, sadness, coping, high school sports, first love, and family togetherness. The standards of point of view and characterization can be taught through the multiple storylines of the characters as well as the secondary characters in the book as all have strong descriptions and personalities.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was a quick read that never had my interest waivering. I would love to read more from Glines and get lost in the worlds she creates. I would buy multiple copies of this book as it is sure to be checked out of classroom libraries constantly. Abbi Glines has a companion book, Under the Lights, slated for future publication.

School Library Journal recommends grades 9 and up.

Fun-Size Academic Writing for Serious Learning: 101 Lessons & Mentor Texts--Narrative, Opinion/Argument, & Informative/Explanatory by Gretchen S. Bernabei

If you are looking for writing mini-lessons for your students that incorporate mentor texts, this may be the resource for you. The mentor texts included in the book are from students at a variety of grades 4-11. Many of the mini-lessons incorporate modeling, close reading, and annotation. Different graphic organizers are included to help support students' writing. It's a resource that I would be returning to again and again.

Professional Development Opportunities

It’s all about … Middle School Poetry Slam

Sunday, February 21 at 2 PM

Students: Bring an original poem to share! Opportunities to create original art! Food, treats and prize drawings Friends and Family welcome!

St. John’s Episcopal Church 323 Wick Ave., Youngstown, OH 44503 330-743-3175

Fostering Student Learning

The Mahoning County Educational Service Center is pleased to provide a professional development opportunity to the teachers in districts serviced by the MCESC.

Fostering Student Ownership of Learning will allow teachers to experience activities that will enhance their understanding of designing strong assessments and rubrics which lead to quick analysis of student data to impact instruction. Participants will be given an opportunity to implement strategies in their classroom to encourage feedback from both teachers and peers, along with student self-assessment and goal setting.​

This course will be offered in conjunction with Youngstown State University and will be given 3 semester hours of credit. Participants are responsible for the cost of this credit.

February 8, 2016- April 21, 2016-4:00 pm-6:30 pm

Mahoning County ESC

Register here

ELA Strategy Survival

MCESC in Boardman from 4 to 6pm

Next meetings: February 3 and March 15

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


March 9 from 6-8:30pm

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 Rasinsk, and many more!

Details can be found here.

ELA Content Night

March 1

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.

Inspiring Approaches for Social Justice & Holocaust Education- Dr. Bettina Love

February 25, 2016 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm

School for the Creative & Performing Arts 108 W. Central Parkway, Cincinnati, OH

Echoes and Reflections: Deepening the Teaching of Elie Wiesel's "Night":

March 3, 2016 4:30pm-7:30pm

CHHE 8401 Montgomery Rd, Cincinnati, OH

Holocaust Studies for Educators

June 20-24, 2016 8:30-4:30pm

Please contact: Alexis Morrisroe at astorch@holocaustandhumanity.org or 513-487-3055.
February's Poll

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